On this long player, the members of Britain's newest Next Big Thing show they might have just enough Oasis in them to avoid becoming this year's Balaam & the Angel. Winner of virtually every UK music award in existence, the band rises and falls on the shoulders of singer/guitarist/songwriter Kelly Jones, an undeniably photogenic lad who at his best sounds like the bastard stepchild of Rufus Wainright and Rod Stewart. Unfortunately, he reaches this pinnacle all too rarely, mainly because of a combination of maudlin tempos and underdeveloped compositions whose slices of dreamy life make it painfully clear that Jones thinks he's way more interesting than he is. Such faults are most apparent on "Caravan Holiday" and the piano-driven (I use that term loosely) "Maybe," both of which consist of vaguely romantic musings set to instrumental accompaniment that could lull Garrison Keillor to sleep. Conversely, "Everyday I Think of Money" mistakes heavy-handedness for sincerity, while the anti-critic lament "Mr. Writer" is a toothless attempt to bite the hands that feed the band. Why, then, should anyone west of Big Ben care about Stereophonics? Check out "Rooftop," whose spunky riffing suggests a glammed-up Soundgarden, and the hummable innocence of "Have a Nice Day," wherein Jones and company hit their stride behind a no-nonsense hook that would do Burt Bacharach proud. Most interesting lyrically is "Nice to Be Out," which meanders Vapors-like through references to Hitler and other atrocities before running out of gas without really making any point. Obviously, it ain't Shakespeare. But if Jones can somehow combine his nascent knack for artfully saying nothing with chord progressions that actually go somewhere, so might his band.


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