Picks and Pans Review: Equally Cursed and Blessed

updated 05/08/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/08/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Catatonia (Atlantic)

There is something unsettling about Welsh wailer Cerys Matthews's theatrical, schoolgirl-in-heat vocals. She sounds like Angelina Jolie looks in Girl, Interrupted—unhinged but alluring. Which is fitting for the lead singer and pinup for a band that takes its name from a zombielike mental state. Inexplicably, Catatonia is enormous in Britain, where a combination of the 29-year-old Matthews's high-pitched voice, provocative looks and public proclamations—"I'm desperate for a shag," she once announced to the press—have propelled the group's two previous albums to the top of the U.K. pop charts. Some of the uptempo tunes here are catchy despite selfconsciously clever lyrics such as "London never sleeps; it just sucks" (from "Londinium") and nonsensical lines like "...we're dead from the waist down/ Like in California" (from "Dead from the Waist Down"). Slower tunes meant to captivate with their dreaminess ("Bulimic Beats," "Valerian") merely grate, thanks to Matthews's mannered vocals and string arrangements that sound as if they're from the soundtracks of bad French art films. "Storm the Palace" begins promisingly with an urgent guitar riff lifted from the Clash but ends up sounding like a Bay City Rollers sing-along.

Bottom Line: Annoying

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