Catatonia were originally formed in 1992 with Mark Roberts and singer Cerys Matthews being part of the band that released the critically acclaimed EP "For Tinkerbell" in 1993. Drummer Aled Richards and guitarist Owen Powell joined prior to the release of their first album Way Beyond Blue and the line-up remained the same for International Velvet.Warner Bros. Records had intended to release "Lost Cat" from Way Beyond Blue in the United States in 1996, but due to problems at the record label the band had never released anything in the US until International Velvet.
International Velvet was released in the United Kingdom on 2 February 1998, following the earlier releases of both "I am the Mob" the previous October and "Mulder and Scully" a few days earlier. It was awarded 3x Platinum status by the British Phonographic Industry on 12 November 1999, meaning that in 22 months it had sold over 900,000 copies. The album was Catatonia's first release in the United States by the Vapor label owned by Neil Young, but it did not chart and according The Washington Post was "overlooked". It was Catatonia's first album release in the United States. The success of the album was seen as launching the band into the public spotlight.
Five singles were released from the album. "I am the Mob" was released on 18 October 1997, and became the first single to reach the top 40 in the United Kingdom having reached number 40 in the chart. "Mulder and Scully" became their breakout hit, reaching number three in the charts and subsequent single "Road Rage" reaching number five. The final two singles did not reach the top ten, with "Strange Glue" getting to number 11 and "Game On" only reaching number 33. As part of the opening ceremony for the 1999 Rugby World Cup at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, Catatonia performed the title track from the album. That track had become an unofficial Welsh anthem due in part to the chorus "Every day when I wake up I thank the Lord I'm Welsh". To promote the album, the band undertook its biggest tour to date.
The review of NME said that International Velvet showed Catatonia "to be more versatile than you ever thought possible for such a white-bread guitar group". It was said that while "I Am The Mob" and "Road Rage" were "out-and-out pop songs", "My Selfish Gene" was a "masterstroke". However, the review said that where Catatonia performed "typical guitar pop" they lacked excitement. In his review for AllMusic, Steve Thomas Erlewine thought that the album failed "as often as it succeeds" in changing the band's sound from a late-80's indie pop to something more akin to hard rock. He thought that "I am the Mob" and "Mulder and Scully" had good hooks but were gimmicky and found it hard to understand all the pop culture references. Overall, he felt that the previous album, Way Beyond Blue delivered a better experience.The Washington Post review thought that International Velvet wasn't as consistent as its predecessor but included it in a list of the best albums of 1998.