Aqualung Strange and Beautiful

After splitting up his post-Britpop band the 45s in 2000, Matt Hales decided to go on his own under the pseudonym Aqualung, where he found overwhelming success when his single "Strange and Beautiful (I’ll Put A Spell On You),” which soundtracked a popular VW ad in the UK. Now three years after the release of his debut album, Strange and Beautiful — a compilation of Aqualung’s two albums — sees the light of day here in North America as a viable introduction. The breadwinning title track — a sleepy, dream sequence of trip-hop beats, slow-mo piano and gushy singing — has serious commercial potential, as does the superior "Brighter Than Sunshine,” a livelier tune that puts the string arrangements and a full backing band to good use. The problem with Aqualung though is that the moping, radio-friendly similitude of the songs treads too much water over the course of the record. Hales keeps the mood and pace well balanced, but there’s nothing unique to raise this beyond the marker of a safe and consistent collection of sulking modern rock songs that would travel nicely in any yuppie-approved automobile. Judging by the market Hales is aiming for, BMW should have been the ones to give him his big break. (Columbia)