Catfish and The Bottlemen are perhaps the biggest buzz band in the UK at the moment with their throwback indie style and memorable tracks. ‘The Balcony’ which was their debut studio album, was released in September of 2014 and became and instant hit to all of those surrounded by indie bands. Catchy songs such as ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Cocoon’ became chart hits and helped the band secure a debut top ten album. The main issue many people have with this band is that they do mostly struggle to have their own style in their music, often being referred to as a lesser equivalent of iconic US rockers The Strokes. This doesn’t stand them in good stead really because the whole point of a band is to be yourself, have your own image and your own sound. Anyway, ‘The Balcony’ was toured many times in front of many screaming fans and also landed them a few big slots at festivals around the country. In early 2016 they received a BRIT award for best British breakthrough act ahead of illustrious names such as Jess Glynne, James Bay and Wolf Alice. This second album ‘The Ride’ has been much needed by many sceptics of the band to see if they can not only maintain the standards of music but most importantly, create their own sound and image. Their fans love it, but will the neutral?
7 – 5.5/10:
The most annoying thing about this song is the potential of it. When the chorus kicks in you expect it to explode into some vast burst of energy but it’s very tame and kind of tricks you into a false sense of security. The often disputed vocals of lead singer Van McCann are typically raspy but far from perfect in this song and this isn’t helped by the lack of support he gets from the rest of the band at times. The bridge is fairly good but sounds just like any other track you’ve heard off ‘The Balcony’ which is my biggest pet hate with the band. The vocals will be ideal for the teenage female fan who will believe the song is crafted based on her even though she’s never met him in their life. The part at the end is undeniably similar to Kathleen and that’s enough to make any neutral almost laugh at the song. The part where he sings about Mary doing a lot of smoking is quite catchy really and the highlight of an otherwise indifferent opening to the album. Homesick was far better than this.
Twice – 4/10:
Oh what a surprise, it appears as though we have another B-side from ‘The Balcony’ with this basic band structure and rhythm. Pains me that he tries to be relatable in his lyrics and he just seems like a bit of a pushover in this story of the song which isn’t something worth singing about. When I say this chorus is awfully put together, I mean it. This chorus just seems so stop-start and unnecessarily brash and loud in places, almost as if they’re trying to make up for the feebleness in ‘7’. Very unforgettable song and I must say it’s very surprising this was released as a single. The last minute of the song is bizarre and just uncannily similar to The Strokes, even his voice has the occasional Julian Casablancas rasp. Poor, unoriginal song.
Soundcheck – 9/10:
Probably the only truly great song on the album. This should be a lesson for the band that when you take a risk with your sound and develop an identity it works out brilliantly. The backing vocals in the pre-chorus provide so much more to the song than there would have been with just Van’s vocals. It builds the suspense up to the chorus even more and it doesn’t disappoint. A proper indie rock chorus, strained but strong vocals, powerful guitar riffs and a consistent and solid drum beat. I really like the complete cut out from chorus to bridge as we see a more mysterious sound to the band and the subtleness increases with softer drum beats and vocals which sound like whispers. This is then ended by the best guitar solo on the album, full of energy and most importantly, unique talent. Should have been the blueprint for the album but unfortunately it wasn’t and they went back to old tricks. Still a fantastic song though.
Postpone – 5/10:
Fallout, Pacifier, Rango, take your pick and it sounds like this song. The most basic Catfish and the Bottlemen sound you can get apart from the 15 seconds of isolated string and vocal duo we are given at the end of each verse which is the highlight of this song. It’s just such a boring track, no substance really and it’s the first time I’m having to genuinely lean in to hear what Van is fully saying and that’s far from ideal. If I wanted to listen to music in which I don’t know what the person is saying I’d listen to Future. I think the issue with this song is that they try far too hard to be edgy and cool and everyone knows when you try to do those things it never comes off. It all seems so forced and unnatural. Really not that great of a song, distinctly average at best.
Anything – 4/10:
I worry when doing these reviews that I repeat myself and say the same things in the same style so god forbid how Catfish feel when they write 20 songs that are identical to one another. It makes this extremely difficult to review because I have the same criticisms of every song, you can see why people enjoy it but it’s so painfully unoriginal which means I just can’t sit and fully enjoy what I’m hearing. Van’s vocals don’t change one bit apart from when he elongates words, which he does far too often and for far too long. I’m sure people will like this song but it’s the kind of sound and beat structure we have seen 100’s of times before. *Sigh* this is as unmemorable as it gets, I almost missed it off my review because I completely forgot about it.
Glasgow – 4/10:
The token acoustic song on the album so we may as well compare it to Hourglass which, in my opinion, is the best song Catfish have done. Basically, this isn’t a patch on it. The lyrics talk about him being walked all over and how he always keeps coming back to the same girl and it’s just a severe lack of substance. At least with Hourglass the story was sustainable and could be related to, this is just a bit of a weak showing and a bit too pour you heart out. Those last 30 seconds are very similar to Alex Turner’s solo work and I can’t get that out of my head so again it affects the scoring. Look it’s an emotional track and all but just spilling emotion onto a song sheet doesn’t make it good and my honest opinion has always been that Van McCann doesn’t hold the vocal strength to be a solo artist and sing without he aid of instruments and this is a definition of that point.
Oxygen – 4/10:
The drum beat is solid and consistent but that’s about it for this song, a bit yawny at times with the boring guitar riff and the mono tonal vocals. The chorus has the sway tendency and the vocal keeps that rhythm up but it’s as a whole just quite boring and there really aren’t enough songs on the album to release rushed fillers like this. “Oxygen is overrated I don’t even need to breath” is a contender for the most ridiculous and stupid lyric I’ve ever heard, like it doesn’t even constitute to anything of what the band base themselves on. That’s basically a suicide note and that’s not what Catfish are, surely they aren’t pretending to be another band are they? Like lighten up lads you aren’t Radiohead. Poor song with immense boredom factor, onto the next one.
Emily – 4/10:
Echoing vocal is actually quite good in fairness and a nice change from the typical sound we are used to. It’s a softer start which does gradually increase in tempo and instrumentation, but this is just a slightly slower, worse and more bleak version of Soundcheck and that’s irritating in itself. Thank god this is a short song with only two verses and choruses because my word it’s dull. The echo vocals at the start are the only good point and they only last 15-20 seconds. Yet another let down from the “best British breakthrough act”.
Red – 6/10:
Nice guitar riff on this song, has a bit of attitude that it carries alongside it which is always a good thing for an indie band. Vocally again I feel like Van gets lost in the instruments and you struggle to hear him fully at times. The pre-chorus in particular just seems shoddily put together with the drum bang coinciding side by side with the lyrics so you can’t hear a word of them. Drags it out at times with the “can he do what I did for you” line being repeated far too many times for my liking. The instruments on this song are fantastic though in all honesty. The drums are fast paced and reckless when needed and the guitar is clean and powerful but the song itself can pass you by a bit unfortunately because the vocals are a bit meshed and can be lost within the background noise. Better, but still not there.
Heathrow – 4/10:
Another acoustic song so that Van can show off his INCREDIBLy average tones. Bland guitar playing and a really strained almost pulling sound on the strings for some chords which sounds messy and unprofessional. The lyrics are basic and repetitive and you get the impression they wrote this song just sat in a living room jamming. Once again a dull song but the acoustics gave it potential and it royally shoved that potential straight back in our faces. Thank god this is nearly over. One more thing, what even is the point in the last 20 seconds? It’s just stupid irrelevant noise.
Outside – 7/10:
Softer song which shows the actual true emotions of Van McCann, not the put on heartache in his acoustics. That is until the chorus kicks in where everything becomes 10x louder and more strained which I actually like in this instance because it has that raw passion we expect from the lyrics. The transitions from chorus to verse are almost sudden and I like that as it shows almost a split personality in how he’s feeling in this relationship. It’s a story of a to and fro couple and this song does it justice in fairness with the fast-to-slow transitions. Good ending to an otherwise poor album.
Overall – 4.5/10:
So, Catfish and the Bottlemen, here is what I made of your album. It was one of the most dull and unoriginal pieces I’ve heard in a long long time. Of the 11 songs, 2 were album worthy. TWO. People who review this album or even listen to it won’t call them out on it though because they’re a ‘proper band’ and we don’t have many of them any more. Yes that’s all well and good, but PROPER bands like Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, The Libertines etc. release brilliant music and have their own image. Catfish do neither, they release recycled material in the hope that the glory days of 2005 come back, where bands like a The Kooks, Razorlight and Bloc Party excelled and there was a real surge in band music. To put this into perspective, I thought The Balcony was a good album, some of it was samey yes, but overall I enjoyed it. This is just so poor, it sounds like it was put together in a matter of weeks not months and years like it should take to write a truly great album. I’ll sum it up like this, if Catfish released this album in the peak days of indie rock, they’d be another one hit wonder band but because they have no competition in terms of bands these days, they get through and get publicity on rock motives alone and that shouldn’t be allowed. Poor album, must do better.