"It's been quite frustrating working with people - them getting their heads around us, us trying to understand them," says Cerys Matthews, vocalist for Catatonia now on the last leg of their tour. There is a hint of tension in her voice, probably due to the fact that the band have found themselves in a peculiar position this year. On the one hand, Catatonia scored highly enough at the summer festivals, including Phoenix and T In The Park, to ensure this current tour has been housed in bigger venues than their UK stint last year. On the other, 1996's applauded, pop stomping debut album failed to deliver hits. Things got weird: they visited US label people and toured the States successfully, only for those same label folk to be sacked afterwards. And in Amsterdam, the representatives didn't even know they existed when they turned up.
So now it is crucial that Catatonia prove their resilience, and they pull it off with their best single yet, the ferocious "I Am The Mob". It's a song about personal empowerment, using over-the-top metaphors to do with the mob and the mafia. It also displays Catatonia's crown jewels - Cerys's voice. When she rants, "Well it's one for the money, two for the money, three for the money, am I an Easter bunny, well c'mon, just c'mon," she combines snarling humour and sexiness that the likes of Louise Wener can only dream about. The song is taken from forthcoming album, International Velvet, in which Cerys's voice mutates frequently, from choir-cherub sweet in "Johnny Come Lately" to a hangover-heavy drawl in "Why I Can't Stand One Night Stands", - a song she admits is pretty autobiographical. "Not many people haven't had them," she reasons. "You wake up in the morning and think, `Oh my God', and wish you hadn't done it. I make elaborate plans, tell my brother to phone me up the next morning and say I've got to leave or something. The best thing is not to do it, stay off the demon drink."
Now, of course, the band have more serious matters at hand, like focusing all their efforts on making sure their new album does the business. And with their optimism in top gear, the omens are good. "This time there was just the five of us, one producer and two months to complete the album. It made the songs more powerful than the debut. When we're onstage the songs are more direct, less cluttered."
Charing Cross Astoria (0171-434 0403/4) 4 Nov