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Friday, April 9, 1999 Published at 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK

Entertainment: New Music Releases

CD Review: Catatonia

Catatonia: Equally Cursed And Blessed (Blanco y Negro)

By the BBC's Chris Charles

What's all this? Cerys Matthews, the snarling Welsh tigress transformed into a purring pussycat? With her reputation? What is she thinking of?

The angst-ridden rants of old have almost been superseded by chocolate drop ballads and sugary pop songs, giving rise to the notion that - suddenly - butter would not melt in her mouth.

So has that devilish twinkle been permanently replaced by the doe-eyed gaze of a cherub?

Don't believe it for a minute. A change is as good as a rest and this new girlie-pink mask of innocence is simply a lighter shade of scarlet which, now and again, slips down to reveal the Cerys of old.

Starry-eyed ballad

She sets out her stall from the off on the gorgeous Dead From The Waist Down, with its soothing strings and poignant "Make hay, not war" chorus which some might feel one or two world leaders would be wise to embrace.

Nothing Hurts brings more of the same, a starry-eyed ballad verging on country music where "all around is wonderful" - which could not be said of London, which is plainly not her favourite place.

Fans of Road Rage, Mulder and Scully and their excellent 1996 debut album Way Beyond Blue may get the feeling they are being sold up the river by Catatonia as the band's popularity reaches fever-pitch.

Yes, the hard-edged guitars have, in the main, given way to orchestral arrangements, Cerys' R's have unrolled themselves and the gruffness has become lushness. But there are still some fine songs here - and just enough rough stuff to keep the die-hards happy.

They don't come much rougher than Storm the Palace, a furious tongue-lashing of the Royal Family, the like of which has not been seen since the Sex Pistols stunned the nation with God Save The Queen.

"Turn it into a bar, let them work in Spar," snorts Cerys, helpfully adding "you can stick your OBE." That's her off the New Year's Honours List then.

Throaty growl

The familiar throaty growl makes another welcome return on Shoot The Messenger: "I felt myself become a bitter old shrew." She airs more of her pain on the wife-beating lament that is Dazed, Beautiful and Bruised.

The angelic Bulimic Beats on the other hand is almost acapella, save for the twinkling of a distant piano, and it is a stunning vocal performance by a woman perfectly entitled to give her long-suffering larynx a break from the norm.

Even the more up-beat, poppy tunes have a spongy feel to them and the valley girl's change of direction is summed up perfectly on She's A Millionaire - which will surely be the next single - where Road Rage has been overtaken by a new High Street phenomenon - "pushchair rage."

Whatever next?

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