4AD – 2005 – 47 minutes

To fans of British music in the 1980s, it must seem like strange times. Clothes that should never have been cool in the first place are now back in fashion (Franz Ferdinand), while the music of bands like The Smiths, New Order, The Clash, The Cure and others which was exported to the US 20 years ago is now being brought back and resold in new packaging (The Killers, The Bravery).

Given all this, things have to be swinging in Cass McCombs' favour. For this singer-songwriter has the captivating baritone and quirky, intellectual lyrical insight of a latter-day Morrissey.

Just like the former Smiths frontman, McCombs' words are often puzzling but never fail to be interesting. References are made to celestial bodies, Bengali villages, cuckoos and even Donald Duck. And that's without even mentioning the multiple uses of Latin.

McCombs uses these diverse aspects to paint distinctly curious word pictures ("Despotic owl conducts the wolves/And mulls attacking a fox/Equinox", "For all my Alas!-es/ I cannot mend this massive slashing/Futile beacon!/Cinderella's in the doghouse!").

At its most catchy, 'PREfection' makes good use of the jangling, syncopated guitars that Bloc Party are staking their mortgages on. Echoes of old-style synthesisers and even organs can also be heard, particularly on slower tracks like 'She's Still Suffering' and 'Cuckoo'.

There are also flashes of humour amid the murky words. On 'Tourist Woman', McCombs satirises the modern tourist, concluding "Romantics are doomed/ And that's a good thing". On the zippy, cheery 'Bury Mary', he seems to be mulling over murdering his nearest and dearest, with not staining the floor his primary concern.

While he may not be exactly firmly in the limelight, McCombs may take comfort from the fact that blanket coverage of The Libertines and its drug-addled aftermath in the music press has not translated into massive sales in Ireland. If the success of The Killers' 'Hot Fuss' is anything to go by, McCombs' material might find a receptive audience here.

Bill Lehane

Tracklisting: Equinox - Subtraction - Multiple Sins - Tourist Woman - Sacred Heart - She's Still Suffering - Cucko - Bury Mary - City of Brotherly Love - All Your Dreams May Come True