(Atlantic)Catatonia's second effort to see American release combines the Welsh band's sarcasm, gravelly vocals, smartly overplayed pop and an attitude that reeks of cigarettes, hard liquor and the morning after to give lightheartedness a swift kick in the groin. When lead singer Cerys Matthews sings "Ooh sha la la la la la la" (on "Karaoke Queen"), she's not asking listeners to dance. Rather, she's inviting them to help her mock a decidedly British status quo.Matthews launches verbal barbs at contrived conceptions of relationships, reality and self-awareness. Guitarists Mark Roberts and Owen Powell, bassist Paul Jones and drummer Aled Richards sardonically keep the beats poppy and bubbly, making the album tantalizingly sweet at first blush, then bitter and mocking in the end. On "Shoot the Messenger," an impish dirge plays while a woman soaks herself in gin and her ex-boyfriend gets laid at all of the hip bars he would never take her to. "Bulimic Beats" is a biting shot at housewives who married for safety, security and empty romance. The wife sits at home, hoping to go on holiday, but instead faces her husband "behind his wall of Sunday papers."
"Karaoke Queen" and "Road Rage" bounce like a prepubescent child hopped up on Pixy Stix while taking shots at selfishness and superficial insecurity. "If all you've got to prove today is your innocence/Calm down, you're as guilty as can be," Matthews sings in "Road Rage." Meanwhile, "Karaoke Queen" is for ladies who like Long Island iced teas and are "doomed to fail" while searching for momentary attention: "The stage gives way/It's an apostrophe to my legacy/But though I'm bruised/I'll happily do it again."
Class-conscious vitriol is turned up on "Storm the Palace," in which Matthews calls for the Royals to be tossed out and made ex-patriots; "She's a Millionaire" admonishes the woman "in her Versace dress" who's "too eager to impress" while "the ad begs "Buy bottled water,' but we know it tastes of piss."
Matthews -- who recently appeared on the cover of Details with her pants unzipped -- is a looker, all right, a fact that may make it difficult for some to focus on the band's songwriting capabilities. But because she looks like she could kick your ass more easily than be seduced, all bets are off. Especially since her stories hit at the heart of bourgeois pretensions and ugliness. God save this queen. -- Sean Neumann