CATATONIA Equally Cursed And Blessed (Blanco Y Negro)

Catatonia’s third album follows their breakthrough release "International Velvet" with almost indecent haste – aren’t two year breaks between albums compulsory these days? – and it’s tempting to be on the offensive when attempting to locate the corners cut. Certainly there’s nothing as deliciously addictive as "Road Rage" to be found here, and some of the lyrics would benefit from some judicious rework (whatever your leanings, you have to admit that the chorus of "Storm The Palace" – "Tourism is congestion" - is some way behind "No future" as an anti-Royalist rallying call), but grasp the realisation that Catatonia are substantially a rock band in the old-fashioned, have-a-good-time sense – the nearest equivalent I can think of is The Faces, for some reason – and such shortcomings as "Equally Cursed And Blessed" has are much easier to ignore.

First single "Dead From The Waist Down" is a great, surprisingly delicate thing, whilst any song that pulls the rug under rose-tinted views of life in the capital ("Londinium") is alright by me. "She’s A Millionaire" still wears Cerys’ virtuoso recorder soloing, as premiered during their Manics support slots late last year, and some of the later tracks – "Shoot The Messenger", a post-relationship counselling session that’s the equal of any of Damon’s recent whinges, "Nothing Hurts" (which also appears in a version performed on "Later" on the freebee 7" that accompanies the numbered limited edition vinyl release) for example – are genuinely affecting.

"Equally Cursed And Blessed" isn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination, and it trails some way behind the crunching rock dynamics of "International Velvet" but you’ll laugh, you’ll smile, you’ll sniffle and maybe recognise at least something of yourself in these 11 tracks. It’s high quality kitchen-sink rock, of the kind that nobody else – not even Pulp – seems to make anymore.

CATATONIA Paper Scissors Stone (Blanco Y Negro)

Catatonia's fourth album finds them sliding even further from the charmed life that was the crunchy, tune-filled "International Velvet". Despite the intervention and involvement of veteran producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, "Paper Scissors Stone" is less a record and more a resigned shoulder shrug of disappointment. There's the occasional outbreak of quite goodness, for example the single "Stone By Stone" or the odd rash of burbly electronica, but for the most part Catatonia have become a trial to spend time with. The lyrics might appear interesting, but when shackled here to the lumpiest melodies of the band's career they don't really stand a chance. Without a succession of contemporary buzzwords to anchor them, Catatonia appear to be drifting aimlessly, and you'd have to have more spare time than me to be interested in what that sounds like.