The third album from the Welsh indie rockers features plenty more of what we've come to expect, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Dan Lovatt reviews.
Date published: 25th Apr 2019
Image: Catfish and the Bottlemen
Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Welsh rockers-turned-heart-throbs, make their eagerly anticipated return this Friday, with the release of their third album The Balance. Van McCann and his merry men received a lot of criticism with their second album The Ride, for a lack of any driving wit or invention, however every increasing sell out tours and legenadry festival performance suggest that these barbs have done little to dent the band so far.
Despite all of their success, some would argue they’ve struggled to permanently wriggle free of their ‘safety net’ brand of rock and roll. So, with this album (perhaps the title is a jab back at those critics) a chance for Catfish to reclaim a sense of excitement and take another great step to establishing themselves as legends of 21st century indie rock. A chance taken rather well.
The album opens with the tracks ‘Longshot’ and ‘Fluctuate’, which were released as singles earlier this year. Both tracks contain catchy riffs and anthemic choruses, standard Catfish behaviour.
‘Longshot’ is a radio friendly indie banger, which gets heads bobbing and delivers on both emotional and creative substance. With ‘Fluctuate’, the boys step up a gear and promote their notorious energy.
A perhaps slightly formulaic, yet nonetheless hooky, bass-driven song follows in the form of ‘2All’, which is as close to the raw vivacity of ‘Kathleen’ as the album comes, and shows the first real peak of quality in the band's third record.
The next four tracks are slightly nuanced but do unfortunately fail to execute memorable experimentation somewhat.
‘Conversation’ brings a grunge essence to the bubbling pot of rock, with more romantic, reflective lyrics to a lighter bass and warped guitars. ‘Sidetrack’, ‘Encore’ and ‘Basically’ are where the band directly engage with their known stylistic, steady rock energy which finds residency somewhere between the early days of Kasabian and The Killers Sam’s Town days.
They bask in this familiar energy until the track ‘Intermission’, which is just shy of two minutes but is successful in directing the mood of the album to a gloomier, discretely slow destination, allowing McCann’s vocals to take centre stage on a bed of a disjointed plucking of an electric guitar and what seems to be a sneaky appearance of a synth.
The album bursts back with ‘Mission’, once again a heavy bass that verges on metallic, combined with a strong melody. Interestingly, McCann includes the lyric ‘Simple things, get them right, you’ll have enough to last your life.’ Whether this is a comment on his own band's musical journey, a critique of the nature of music labels, or just a coming-of-age, bare necessities message, it must have been at the forefront of the creative effort when they wrote the album.
Album closer ‘Overlap’ boasts all the energetic pizazz that a closing track should have, and recaptures a semi-acoustic opening that fans have found irresistible in their previous albums. It’s a thundering end to a record that has elements of safety within it.
Whilst their fanbase will almost certainly enjoy the album, Catfish have created an atmosphere of agitation with an album that is predictably good, but not soar to new heights of memorable excellence. They innovate rather well, but they do not always invent - but then, they have never pretended to.