Prior to International Velvet
offered modest, lovely pleasures -- pretty, ringing pop songs filled with sweet and sour melodies. Apparently, the band was concerned that they were a little too precious, a little too similar to late-'80s indie pop groups like the Primitives
, so they beefed up their sound, turned up the guitars and toughened up their attack for International Velvet
, their second major-label album (the first to be released in America). It's a gambit that fails as often it succeeds. Part of the problem is that the hard rock sounds forced, never quite rocking with the abandon it should and keeping much of the album grounded. More problematically, Cerys Matthews
has a captivating voice but a weakness for gimmicks -- "I Am the Mob" and "Mulder and Scully" have terrific hooks, but it's hard to get with their self-conscious pop culture references. Still, at least they bring memorable melodies to the songs. When their songwriting comes up short, there isn't enough attitude or snarl to the performances to make them enjoyable -- which is precisely what the sonic revamping should have given them. Even with the flaws, International Velvet
has its fair share of pop delights -- it just doesn't deliver as many as Way Beyond Blue
, which had a surplus of melody and grace.