This is a review I did for Catatonia’s 2001 ‘Paper Scissors Stone’ album (their 4th and final LP) back in 2004. You can listen to the opening track ‘Godspeed’ as well as my favourite track from the band ‘Lost Cat’ below. Both sound so euphoric a decade/decade and a half on.
The vitality and energy of Catatonia’s brilliant debut ‘Way Beyond Blue’ seemed to dissipate down a Welsh valley on ‘International Velvet’. As the band tore the charts apart, each new release revealed a diminishing level of inspiration. ‘Paper Scissors Stone’ was a glorious return to form. Flowing seamlessly over 14 tracks, it is the bands crowning achievement. Gone are the weak melodies, the strung out production and rambling direction. In their place are lots of fine tunes collectively making up a cohesive and wildly enjoyable album. At times Cerys Matthews’ can sound like an excited choirboy but her strains are nonetheless attractive and inviting. Like on the epic opener ‘Godspeed’ where she’s heartfelt and fragile. The flawless orchestration helps of course but one can’t help but be touched by the story of despair and loneliness.
A little simple and superficial ‘Immediate Circle’ hurtles along until it takes a heavenly break. The piano bamboozles the senses and never really wins your admiration. But for every forgettable tune there are several memorable ones. ‘Fuel’ takes several sideswipes at non-green activities. The chorus is big, bold and defiant. ‘Doom looms large on the horizon, Mountain toxic river poison, Fools get votes in a democracy’ shows exactly where the band stand on environment issues. This CD is made from carbon neutral material, which is a nice gesture to show they don’t just peddle hollow messages.
There is a minor Bjork influence on ‘What It Is’ right down to its trigger-happy beats. Oblique and bare it is deserving of a good remix to give it its feet. ‘Stone By Stone’ on the other hand needs no help. The backing singers might have a chance in getting the part for the witches guards in the remake of the Wizard of Oz but Cerys won’t have any difficulty filling Dorothy’s shiny shoes. That bitter sweet symphony always comes in handy at chorus time and adds further credence to this songs greatness.
It’s quite remarkable how each track on ‘Paper Scissors Stone’ tumbles by with such an effortless melody. ‘The Mother Of Misogyny’ for example is just waiting to be adopted by the nearest ear. The guitars frolic about like a drunken cowboy and Cerys gets hoarse on a sack full of emotion. If you could label ‘The Mother Of Misogyny’ dramatic then ‘Is Everybody Here On Drugs?’ desperately searches for its own (drugs). Brilliantly dizzy, hip shakingly forgetful and buzzing on a giant meandering vocal performance this is the experience filtered into a few minutes. Not content with waltzing with Iceland’s daughter, Catatonia also grab Kate Bush by the hand and give her the time of her life on ‘Imaginary Friend’. As fragile as crystal one minute but as tough as nails the next, this is music not afraid to wear its inner turmoil on its torn sleeve. If you survive that trauma, ‘Shore Leave’ is quite a beautiful reward. It would have made a fine single, the vocal delivery is acrobatic and the jangling guitar playing overshadows the violin subtext.
‘Apple Core’ could be an outtake from ‘Amnesiac’ but even though it flitters for less than a couple of minutes it is beguiling. Belching beats, burping voices, drum machines and several dancing teddy bears is generally enough to get me smiling. Sounding remarkably like a Cardigans composition with beefed up energy ‘Beautiful Loser’ may have an untidy guitar loop but everything else is close to pristine. It has a familiar ring and dreams up jazz moments given a thoughtful modernisation. There is a swagger to the playing that is infectious. ‘Blues Song’ has a much harder edge and is difficult to pin down. In saying that the guitars saunter through the air like seagulls on speed while a ranting Matthews spurts out her cruel intentions. Against all this ‘Village Idiots’ is a little incoherent and hurried. Not in a bad way but in that unique Catatonia take on musical frenzy that so often hits the target only after some headless rummaging in the dark. At the end Cerys utters a few home truths ‘Get set and maybe, we could be the first to cross the line’. As ever, willing to speak her mind it’s hard to disagree because after a few listens this album confirms Catatonia’s worth.
‘Paper Scissors Stone’ is a genuine surprise for those who felt cheated at ‘International Velvet’s cold commerciality. There are highlights aplenty, repeated listens uncover nuances that you had failed to pick up on previously. It about time you cancelled your appointments, rang in sick, missed a few lectures, or just did what you gotta do to listen to this album. KD
Catatonia – Godspeed Catatonia – Lost Cat