It’s been less than two years since Catfish and the Bottlemen released their roaringly popular debut, The Balcony and it seems that not much has changed in that time. The Welsh lads (well, at least frontman Van McCann) are still writing about they know best: girls, smoking and drinking, and throwing in wonderful guitar solos left, right and centre. However, is their follow-up, The Ride, anywhere near as good?
If I’m totally honest, I’m not so sure. The album is incredibly listenable, and everything does what it says on the tin. Van McCann’s lyrics are as they always have been: simple, leaving nothing much to the imagination, yet still managing to find a way to relate. It’s clear the band have stuck to their guns, remaining as ‘inside the box’ as possible. Perhaps too much.
Many of the tracks on The Ride are decent, but they have a tough act to follow. Each and every track sounds like a cut from The Balcony with more of dad-rock influence. Although the album stays truly Catfish at its core, you can hear the heavy influence of other artists. Stick a Scottish accent on ‘Twice’ and you could have a Fratellis’ Costello Music-era track. They even manage to sound like Oasis circa 2004 on ‘Oxygen’. While the latter is definitely one of the strongest tracks on the LP, it’s hard to ignore the near-emulation of bands from the last decade. Two albums down and Catfish still haven’t got a ‘You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ or a ‘Spanish Sahara’ that you can pin down and define as their staple. On some tracks, such as ‘Emily’ and ‘Outside’, they seem to even parody themselves, the two at times sounding like reworked efforts from previous EP releases and overall sound a bit lazy. It begs the question as to which of the ‘hundreds’ of tracks McCann claims to have written weren’t good enough to make the cut.
The Ride is a cohesive collection of music, another 11-track collection focussing on the world of girls and going out. There’s a rockier feel to many of the songs on the album, with rousing guitar solos featuring throughout. ‘Anything’ is full of punchy energy and perhaps the strongest contender for a tour set-list inclusion. I can already picture rowdy crowds going crazy at Bondy’s wicked guitar solo. While very similar, and not very imaginative lyrically, both ‘Twice’ and ‘Postpone’ maintain the band’s momentum, rousing choruses aplenty. ‘Oxygen’ is one of the most memorable tracks, the melody and lyrics being some of the strongest, with Van exclaiming over jangly guitars: ‘She said oxygen’s overrated, I don’t need to breathe’. ‘Red’ is one of the band’s best rocky efforts, with thrashing guitar and an inquisitive Van pleading: ‘How about I change? / How about you look at me the same?’.
More forgettable tracks include ‘Emily’ and ‘Glasgow’, with the latter in particular being a lacklustre attempt at The Ride’s ‘Hourglass’ 2.0, a fan favourite that is lauded across indie Twitter. A much more successful attempt at this is ‘Heathrow’, a stand-out guitar ballad that comes across as a mature break to separate the rowdy and frequent guitar solos. Van McCann has a way of bringing together beautiful guitar melodies and fairly crass lyrics (‘snog her in the kitchen’ being one of many examples) and yet still coming out with a track that makes your heart ache in recognition of whatever the situation was that the song was sparked from. This is one of the fewer instances in which his lad-rock, ‘less is more approach’ seems to really work and an example of what made The Balcony the success it was. ‘Outside’ isn’t particularly groundbreaking and sounds like past singles ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Kathleen’ rolled into one in terms of production. Despite this, it’s a definite grower, with a cruising crescendo of sound and a tasty bass riff eventually making its way into your brain until it’s stuck in there for days.
Overall, The Ride proves that Catfish and the Bottlemen can make music. They can make music that they know will be a sure-fire success at festivals and on the touring circuit, complete with mosh pits, shouty sing-alongs and constant air punching. They can make music that their masses of fans will hear and relate to every line instantly. However, they seem to have settled for just being ‘good’. With time and patience, the boys could produce some truly great music, but for now they seem unable to break that ceiling.
The Ride is out today, and can be streamed on Spotify from 10th June.
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[Originally written for Redbrick Music]