Despite claims from Noel Gallagher that rock and roll is dead, Catfish And The Bottlemen strike again with an album that undeniably proves him wrong. The four piece, fronted by Van McCann are simply built for festivals, and their second album The Ride introduces another selection of crowd-pleasing anthems.
Although there is little originality to the Bottlemens’ sound, this arguably is what propelled them to stardom; they make songs that sound familiar. A great example of this is the single, Soundcheck. The first time I heard this track, I felt like I had heard it before, despite it being completely original. The melody is unforgettable and the chorus provides the perfect sing-along vibe. But there is far more to Catfish than mere catchy melodies, with the new album providing truly epic solos and rhythms to accompany, this being present on the single.
The Bottlemen also take a slightly more stripped back approach in tracks such as Glasgow and Oxygen, my favourite songs of the album. Although this more refined approach removes some of the signature roughness from the bands debut, the production of their latest attempt provides a more professional and mature sound for the band.
Irrefutably this is not an album that will stand high and mighty in music records, yet this also is not an album to ignore. Despite at times having imperfect and somewhat lazy lyrics, McCann’s vocal devotion is second to none and his conviction achieves what he sets out, indie anthems. The Ride encompasses the sound of teenage angst while Catfish have again created a festival-favourite phenomenon which is sure to enshrine their name as the current kings of the indie rock scene with archetypal songs 7 and Twice likely to develop into indie club classics.
Picks: Oxygen, 7, Soundcheck
I’m torn. There are moments where I love this album, but there are moments where it leaves me incredibly frustrated.
Let’s start with the positives; Catfish and The Bottlemen have stuck to what they know, and it certainly worked the first time round, so why not do it on the second album? Again they’ve created loud, stadium rock, with particular highlights being Twice and Oxygen. Twice, particularly, is a belter.
But this is also exactly why this album leaves me incredibly frustrated and unfulfilled; they’ve stuck to creating the same type of song, with exactly the same instruments, and even an album cover that’s hardly much different. If someone asked a non-fan to listen to any Catfish song and say whether it was from The Balcony or The Ride based on how it sounded, they’d have to guess. Because sonically, the two albums are exactly the same; the band haven’t moved on even a tip-toe step.
And then, as it has been doing since I first listened to the album, my mind tells me that this isn’t a bad thing; they’ve simply done what you’re meant to do, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? Well I think for the first time in my life I’ve found a case where this doesn’t apply; this album, overall, feels very stagnant to me. I’m still a Catfish fan, and I’ll still enjoy the new songs, but Van, on the next one, try something new please?
Picks: Twice, Soundcheck, Oxygen
At a time where everything is changing – from Taylor Swift’s hair colour to potentially our position in the EU – I, for one, am relieved that Catfish And The Bottlemen have stuck to what they know. On the surface, The Ride could essentially be viewed as a deluxe version of debut album The Balcony, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with this at all. They’re playing the music they want to play, and judging by the popularity of The Balcony, it’s clearly the music their audiences want to hear too.
Whilst the two albums are pretty similar on the surface, The Ride actually offers tighter guitar riffs, more cohesive lyrics and a bit of experimentation with lead Van McCann’s vocals – such as his angsty screams of “Christ” in the chorus of Twice. They play around with their acoustics a lot more, with Glasgow and Oasis-esque Heathrow focusing mainly on one guitar and McCann’s vocals. These additions give the album more of a chilled vibe than their first, making the band appear relaxed in the fact that they are successfully doing what they love. With its echoey, almost electronic at times, vocals, Emily is perhaps the most pop-like song the band have released so far, adding further to the extremely delicate changes in sound across the album.
It’s easy to produce an album that is exactly the same as the first, which is why The Ride impresses me so much. Catfish have produced an album which offers their fans a sound they are used to, but with a few new subtleties to keep things interesting. It’s these subtleties which highlight their technical progression as a band, meaning that The Ride is unquestionably a level up from their debut.
Picks: Glasgow, Heathrow, Soundcheck
The pulsating bass intro of 7 promises big things for The Ride, yet the song’s acoustic chorus is ultimately a let-down, and the first five songs whizz by and are at best diverting. The overfamiliar indie choruses and a fixation with simplistic references to alcohol and cigarettes prevent these tracks from soaring like the best moments of Catfish’s debut such as Kathleen or Pacifier, although Anything features a killer guitar solo. The lyrics seem not just one-dimensional or simple but a calculated attempt to remain so, such as the opening lines of Twice: “Maybe I don’t mind getting high at mine, or shouting over music with a friend who’s like a brother”, and in these instances you feel like you are just hearing McCann serenade his growing adolescent fan base.
The album’s standout moments come in the second half, with McCann channelling the Gallaghers in the album track Oxygen with a pretty chorus and classic brit pop lyrics: “Oxygen’s overrated, I don’t even need to breath”. Elsewhere Red is also an earworm of a track, another new one which crescendos to an enormous chorus featuring deft use of a vocal synthesizer and which will fill the huge arenas that the Liverpudlian trio are now selling out. Catfish are refreshingly unpretentious and are a force for good in the music industry as role models for young rock bands: especially as a rare example of a group of working class lads in an increasingly privileged trade. This album will, and already has experienced enormous success. However, a few bright moments aside, sonically it lacks the unbridled excitement of The Balcony and lyrically it reverts too often to uninspired recollections of drunken revelry.
Picks: Oxygen, Red
Catfish’s sophomore effort, The Ride, has taken a drastic turn with preference over clean cut production over their old, reckless, off the cuff manor. Although this transition is not quite like a Catfish out of water, I don’t think this approach has the legs. As a long-time fan The Ride feels underwhelming with slower tempo, forgetful choruses and sobered guitar solos (an important staple of Bottlemen music gone by). In the process their wild cross-country approach has completely disappeared, leaving a very middle of the road, slightly bland album. If the Balcony was the Party, The Ride is the hangover.
The increased production has stirred a flavour too similar to Oasis with songs like Oxygen, though good, almost a carbon copy of 2005 hit Lyla. Instead of offering an alternative rock style they have let their inspirations take too much influence over this album. Perhaps by slowing down and generalising their sound to match old rock classics, Catfish is hoping to appeal to a wider audience and be more approachable. Seemingly they have indeed succeeded, achieving number one in the album charts this week, though at the cost of their individuality.
There are however some positives to the album, namely the singles. Although Soundcheck, often referred to as “The Big One” by the band, is a far cry from a legendary song like Wonderwall or a I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, it is still a catchy and likeable tune (alongside 7 and Twice). The band has come out saying that the purpose of the record was to be very inside the box and for some that may be appealing. For me, this does not excuse them. Playing it safe is for pop singles but not whole albums. Enjoy the singles, watch the band live, but for listening all the way through, and please listen to the Balcony.
Picks: Soundcheck, Twice, Anything