Filed under: album, review | Tags: 2009, cerys matthews, music, richard steele
Don’t Look Down •••
It’s been over a decade since Cerys Matthews crashed into the charts, champagne bottle in hand, as the bolshy frontwoman of Welsh Britpop band Catatonia. She’s ticked off quite a to-do list since then: rehab, marriage, kids, move to America, divorce, move back to Wales, appear on ‘I’m A Celebrity..Get Me Out Of Here’, helm a popular BBC radio show, and, most importantly, release a clutch of imaginative solo recordings. First she threw off the ladette pop singalongs of Catatonia in favour of a perfect slice of Americana on 2003’s confident, rollicking Cockahoop, then surprised again in 2006 with Never Said Goodbye, a polished, string-laden album of folk-rock charms. Following yet another curveball in the way of 2007’s light and loungey EP Awyren = Aeroplane, new album Don’t Look Down (and its Welsh-language counterpart Paid Edrych I Lawr) sends her stylistic journey into orbit with a veritable pick ‘n’ mix of musical textures and genres.
If first single ‘Arlington Way’ was anything to go by, we might have expected Matthews to have copped out and taken the phoney Motown path already well travelled by Amy Winehouse, Duffy, et al. But, while a few songs on Don’t Look Down do succumb to this fate (‘Spider & The Fly’, ‘Smash The Glass’), the rest of the album dips its toes into quite different waters. ‘Aeroplanes’, the English-language version of previously released track ‘Awyrennau’, is so light and frothy it could quite easily soundtrack a hot chocolate commercial, with Matthews’s voice showing no signs of its previous 40-a-day growl. ‘It’s What’s Left (That Makes it Right)’ gets the full on stadium rock treatment, backed by big drums and the kind of noodling guitar work you’d normally expect from U2. Perhaps the strangest song though is ‘Salutations’, which sees Matthews attempt a Speech Debelle-esque delivery on a regretful tale of domestic minutiae and longing that will either make your toes curl or have you nodding along sagely, sympathetically; whichever, the beautifully nostalgic, string-drenched chorus is hard to ignore.
Above all else, Matthews deserves credit for continually stepping outside of her comfort zone; for every grand, moody flourish of yearning (‘A Captain Needs A Ship’, ‘Evelyn’, ‘Oranges To Florida’) there’s a broader-minded experiment that pushes her capabilities and our expectations (‘Heron’, ‘Through A Glass’, ‘Salutations’). And while this approach scores her extra points for bravery, Don’t Look Down ultimately lacks the focus and cohesion of previous releases. The cover depiction of Matthews walking a tightrope is fairly apt then; refusing to take things too gingerly for long, the album wobbles and bounces along, occasionally threatening to collapse beneath the weight of its own daring.
UK release date: 05/10/09; www.myspace.com/cerysmatthews
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