Cerys Matthews - Never Said Goodbye

Bill Cummings 23/08/2006

Rating: 3/5

Picture the scene: Cardiff Bay, we're standing watching scouse quirky popsters Space play through their hits, enter stage left stumbling into view Cerys, bawling at the top of her lungs, wine bottle in one hand and a silver puffer jacket covering her body. That my friends is my abiding memory of Cerys Mathews circa 1996.

Things have changed a lot since then; let's not forget that Catatonia produced two albums of real quality in the nineties, and some really addictive female alt-pop songs. When Catatonia imploded at the arse end of Britpop, Cerys suffered some dark days, breakdowns, drug addiction, etc. But it's to her credit that she's back, changing her life, moved to Nashville, got married, had two children, and produced a decent solo album in the shape of 2003's “Cockahoop”, which had a stripped back vibe, influenced by the folk and country of the US, her adopted home. It was a nice introduction to Cerys the solo artist.

“Never Said Goodbye” is her second effort, and it's a pleasingly accomplished one, it probably lacks the bite of early Catatonia, but she manages to imbue these breezy, country and folk pop landscapes with her still gorgeous vocals. Musically the album owes more to the likes of Ryan Adams, the more downtuned personal homespun work of the Beatles, and Joni Mitchell than the Britpop of Catatonia.

But it's her voice that's the real star here. While the backing maybe a bit conservative in places Cerys voice is like a constant force, from tender wide eyed mewl, to passionate roar: and it's when she opens those famous lungs to full effect that she's on her best form. The squelching, stomping brass-driven “Oxygen” is probably the hit in waiting. The storming chorus will have you beating your chest and tapping your foot.

Elsewhere opener “Streets of New York” is lovely, a delectable plucked guitar sound and a switching drum pattern, allowing Cerys to gracefully enter the city's chaotic rhythm (“I'm somewhere I don't want to be, the city's moving over me, and I think I'm going to stay”) with a heart full hope and new love (“Please don't be alarmed / I'm not the star of something.”)

Then there's recent single “Open Roads”, the pleasingly folk pop opening up like a delicate honeysuckle flower in the morning sun: initially tender and sedate, before opening up into a gallop. Its beautiful refrains are expertly rendered by Cerys as she wistfully glances back, at a relationship long since gone ("I remember the driving rain/soaked to the skin these were perfect days/and I remember it all") Elsewhere there's the lilting 60s influenced “A Bird In Hand” the aural equivalent to a kiss on the head as you wipe the sleep from your eyes.

Unfortunately, in the second half of the album there's a marked dropping off in quality, some of the tracks do fade dangerously into a into the dreaded dreariness of Radio 2 filler: namely the bluesy drawl of “What Kind Of Man” and occasionally, lyrically there's a overuse of 70s hippy naturalistic imagery (see “Seed Song” and “The Endless Rain”). Understated closer “Elen” saves the day though, it's welsh language balladry has a gentle understated Gorky's-esque charm.

The best songs here soar to the sky, Cerys sounding on fine form, at last happy in her own skin, free of the shackles of her caricature, she's able to open up herself. Some of it is clunky; it's as if Cerys is still finding her feet, as she shifts gears into her new toned down nu-folk direction. A partial victory then: with promise to the future.