Album review: Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Ride

by David Flanigan

The buzz around Catfish and the Bottlemen is wholly symptomatic of the perverse state of Western rock music in the 2010s. Winning a ‘British Breakthrough’ Brit Award earlier this year, the limbo in mainstream rock has allowed the likes of themselves, and The 1975, to massively expand their underground following in a short space of time from minimal exposure. Their 2014 debut album The Balcony helped escalated them to one of the biggest bands in the country. After frontman Ryan “Van” McCann somewhat threateningly suggested that Catfish could release annual albums, its follow-up The Ride arrived on a billow of hype, a mere 18 months later.

As on The Balcony, McCann still appears otherworldly earnest, and while the songs he writes are grounded in reality, there is no doubt that real, functional relationships involve brief exchanges on cigarette breaks (‘Soundcheck’) and drinking together (basically every Catfish song released so far) – his lyrics are chronically underwritten.

Rhyming is non-existent, rhythmic flows are disregarded and obscure words are violently shoehorned into lines in a ‘Word of the Day’ fashion (“You’re sympatico” from Balcony’s ‘Kathleen’ remains shudder-inducing). The most significant of The Ride’s lyrical aberrations rears its ugly head on ‘Heathrow’, in which, when referring to his assumed girlfriend: ‘Hug her like a mother would’ is paired agonizingly with ‘Snog her in the kitchen’. Sound in sentiment, perhaps, it gives notes of an unintentional, uncomfortable parental flavour to what is an obviously passionate relationship.

Things begin to really fall apart as the album reaches its mid-point. ‘Glasgow’ is the sort of bland, expendable, acoustic ballad that Ed Sheeran shits out by the half-dozen whilst waiting on the bus. Crippled by its vagueness, it is comfortably the weakest track of Catfish’s career thus far. Most criminally, it sports the most minor of nods to the city itself, (a single mention of Sauchiehall Street on the chorus) information which could have been obtained from 30 seconds on TripAdvisor.

While there are very obvious The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys influences throughout Catfish’s music, ‘Oxygen’ leans dangerously hard on Oasis’ ‘She’s Electric’. Although this elevates to the track to among one of, if not the strongest on the album, both by association, and by its decent hook, Catfish would do well to avoid inviting comparisons with a fellow sophomore album of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’s near-undeniable quality.

When The Balcony succeeded, it was a result of its great moments. The verse-chorus transition on ‘Homesick’, the hook on ‘Cocoon’, ‘Pacifier’s intro, finding any similarly striking instances within The Ride’s 40 minute runtime is a challenge. Moreover, The Ride is produced far more cleanly, and thus loses the rawer, garage-recording quality that greatly added to Catfish’s sound on the The Balcony. With fewer tweaks in production to hide their weaknesses, not least when Catfish offer little of note, instrumentally, this almost singularly kneecaps the record.

Crucially, The Ride is far too safe, and lacks any true identity of its own to advance upon its superior predecessor. It is, in-essence, the straight-to-video Disney sequel brand of sophomore album: a generally tame, occasionally egregious, but ultimately inferior re-tread of the original.} else {