London – UK rock band Catfish and the Bottlemen is loved by fans somewhat more than by critics; which is probably the right way round if you are keen to sell out venues rather than simply bask in hype. Despite some critical coolness, there is much to like about the band’s uncomplicated approach to its resolute and riff-happy music, and not least frontman Van McCann’s classic rock vocal. The follow up to their 2014 breakthrough album, The Balcony, from the boys from North Wales is titled The Ride. It continues its predecessor’s penchant for single word song titles but equally demonstrates a progression born of high octane gigging. You get a band that is living the rock ‘n’roll dream and embracing the rollercoaster ride that comes with it.
The eleven track collection of singular titles opens with the medium-paced rocker “7,” with the number in this case being hours. In an homage to life on tour and those you leave behind, McCann offers excuses and indecision, never wanting to “promise again that I would call her / forget the time because I’m 7 hours behind” but the song is shrewdly emboldened by a huge Oasis-style singalong chorus. Immediately you get why this band needs to be seen live. McCann walks the line between being egotistical and lovable, and that comes across on record in his accessible, autobiographical lyrics and attitude.
The songs here eschew any hint of pretension. If Catfish and the Bottlemen go on to produce some sort of concept album further down the line, it would be less of a tinker with esoteric Radiohead-isms and more of a rock opera for everyman, in which a spade is called, well, a spade. Meanwhile, the new album plays very much like a live show. It isn’t quite wall-to-wall rock as acoustic tunes “Glasgow” and “Heathrow” provide nicely spaced breathers; it’s organised rather like a set list. Both see McCann reminiscing about old flames from opposite ends of the country. The former lover keeps up with his drinking pace, while in “Heathrow” his muse, rather than being propped up at a Glasgow bar lock-in, is firmly on a pedestal: “She was a different league / When I was nothing much” he declares.
“Red” has McCann playing the jealous guy, speculating about how his ex’s new partner compares. Like many of the lyrical observations on the record, the conjecture is suitably mundane, as in “Does he love what you’ve done with the place?.” The thin guitar chords seem correspondingly shallow, and in that small detail, much is revealed about how former Oasis producer Dave Sardy has conspired to add texture and even finesse to the band’s core sound. Mind you, that might also explain why “Oxygen” sounds a little like an Oasis off-cut. That influence is also prevalent in one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Soundcheck,” which I firmly expect to become a live favourite.
The Ride is out now and available for purchase on iTunes. Catfish and the Bottlemen returns to the USA on May 31 for a string of concert and festival appearances, and come June, CATB have scheduled numerous UK and European dates. Tour details are on the band’s Facebook page.
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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