Apartment Life

Money may have bought [a]Catatonia[/a] love, happiness, a big orchestra and [B]Wizard Of Oz[/B] stage sets, but it's also smothered a little of the working-class Valleys fury that stoked them in th

Orchestras are the Ebola of pop. They creep in almost unnoticed, turn your internal talent to mush and have you spouting liquefied slush from every orifice within days. We’ve lost the Manics, [a]Oasis[/a] and [a]Travis[/a] to this evil plague already, and Cerys Matthews has been on the danger list ever since she looked so comfortable singing ‘My Selfish Gene’ on telly, accompanied by Jools Holland. With ‘Equally Cursed And Blessed’ comes the first sign of haemorrhage.

In the past, the fire in Cerys’ gut and the bile in her larynx have always made the major label policy of ‘If It Moves, Orchestrate It’ superfluous. Cerys was the lady-bloke chieftain of a downtrodden generation, the beaten housewives’ revenge, champion of the cheated and churlish. The last thing we need is for her to get dumbed down, softened up, bleached blank by the Michael Nyman brigade. Cerys Matthews was never meant to go girlie.

Yet here she comes, togged up like Pam Ayers and singing [I]”Make hay not waah-ho-hooor”[/I] on ‘Dead From The Waist Down’, backed, it seems, by the Disneyland house band. [I]”Everything is beautiful/And nothing hurts”[/I], she hisses on ‘Nothing Hurts’, lullabyishly. There are no road rages here, no dead gangsters, no pregnancy scares. No real pain to speak of at all, in fact, other than ‘Bulimic Beats’‘ resigned take on eating disorders. ‘Londinium’ has a go at stirring some anti-capital hatred but only ends up whingeing on about how the traffic’s a nightmare and sushi is too expensive. Hell on earth, eh dear…

Around half of ‘Equally Cursed And Blessed’, then, is fairly insipid orchestral indie pop fluff – as harmless and cutesy-pie soft as a baby seal, crying out for a right good culling. It’s only when Cerys slips into role-playing mode that the old invective returns. In ‘Storm The Palace’ she’s caught in a punkoid mob riot with the war cry, [I]”TURN IT INTO A BAR!/LET THEM WORK IN SPAR!”[/I]. On ‘Shoot The Messenger’ she’s a Vladivar-ravaged Eartha Kitt spraying spittle and bitterness around a dingy East European polka dive. And on the final ‘Dazed, Beautiful And Bruised’, she’s defying domestic violence with a bollock-chewing growl, her vocals growing ever more ragged and histrionic until her throat finally prolapses. Armoured earmuffs will fall from the ceiling around verse three.

The overwhelming stench, however, is of money. Not so much clutched and wisely invested in Strepsils as smeared in syrup and rolled around in. Money may have bought Catatonia love, happiness, a big orchestra and Wizard Of Oz stage sets, but it’s also smothered a little of the working-class Valleys fury that stoked them in the first place. A few more hits, you fear, and Catatonia could end up dead from the bank balance up.