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coverpic flag Wales - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 16 - 02/11/98

International Velvet
Blanco Y Negro

Deffrwch Cymry cysglyd gwlad y gan
dwfn yw'r gwendid
bychan yw y fflam

The Celtic language sure looks (and sounds) cool, though I can't understand a single word of it. I first heard the Welsh quintet Catatonia when I saw them perform in one of the Later With Jools Holland live-shows on BBC some months ago, and was immediately fascinated. They started out in 1994, and was praised by the critics from the very start. Their first single, For Tinkerbell, was picked as single of the week in NME, as was their 3rd single, Whale, later the same year. In the autumn of 1996 came their successful debut album, Way Beyond Blue, and now they've just released the follow-up, International Velvet.

There have been some Welsh artists around over the last years; Super Furry Animals and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, and well, OK, the Manic Street Preachers. And of course my old favourites the Pooh Sticks! And, yes, eh...Tom Jones. (Actually Catatonia and Tom J. have been collaborating!) Well, over to the album. A couple of weeks ago I saw the video for Mulder And Scully, the opening track of International Velvet, on MTV's Alternative Nation. And a great song it is. It's not about X-file paranoia or some pre-millenium tensity, but simply a song about the troubles of being in love and in a relationship ("And as for some happy ending, I'd rather stay single and thin").

From being a jangly guitar-pop band, they've now become more of a big-sounding pop band, with lots of nice guitar-work. But without sounding too big. They've brought in some minor hip-hop elements, giving their sound a moderately spiced flavour. On I Am The Mob (first single off the album) they act like "la Cosa Nostra", with lines like: "I put horse's heads in people's beds, Cause I am the mob", and come up with the most divine-sounding chorus I've heard for ages: "That Luca Brasi, ah, he sleeps with the fishes. Missus.". (Luca Brasi - one of the thugs from The Godfather movie) One of the highlites of the record. Another favourite is Goldfish And Paracetamol. Nice rhythms, and a Morricone-like trumpet at the end. The title-track is sung partly on Celtic, but with the chorus in English. Some political stand it seems like? (I need a translator, please.) Towards the end of the album Catatonia calm down a bit, with some fine "ballads". Melody Maker have called the music of Catatonia "kitchen sink dramas" and "great, oblique pop". In fact, that's quite fitting. Catatonia create a a tasty combination of catchy melodies and sensitive lyrics.

Catatonia is fronted by singer Cerys Matthews, and her voice is both raw and cute, as she's often spitting out the lyrics as a whiplash. Showing intensity, but still being gentle. In fact she's got a sexy voice. Guitarist Mark Roberts has written most of the songs, some of them together with Cerys, the rest together with the whole band. Guitarist Owen Powell has written 2 of the songs, bassman Paul Jones has co-written one song together with Cerys. On drums: Aled Richards, going steady as steady can be.

International Velvet is definitely a good album. It's a record to slide into love with. Friendly, hummable, and teasing pop of class. Maybe Wales could be the place to spend the holiday this year?

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