Release Date: May 27, 2016
Record label: Capitol
Catfish and the Bottlemen make no bones about their stadium-level ambitions. For years, they claim in interviews, the Welsh four-piece have thought of themselves on the scale of bands like Arctic Monkeys and Oasis, seeking to make music that simultaneously induces dancing and feels, songs that strike at both the heart and the instinct. They began that process with their raw 2014 debut, The Balcony, and that growth continues on The Ride, which sounds like the sonic manifestation of an upgrade in concert billing.
Much like fiction boils down to a few archetypal stories framed by genre strictures, rock albums have recurrent motifs. The Ride, Catfish and the Bottlemen’s second album, finds this foursome – surprise winners of a Brit for breakthrough act, against far more house-trained opposition – at a tipping point. Having sold 250,000-odd copies of their debut, 2014’s The Balcony, these north-westerners (plus token Geordie guitarist Johnny Bond) are on a quest – to become the new Oasis, this generation’s purveyors of everyman tales, written to be hollered back by the hordes.
For Catfish and the Bottlemen, growth is measured along the scale of refinement, not ambition. The Ride, the 2016 sophomore set that follows their debut, The Balcony, by two years, finds the band still pledging allegiance to the rock & roll of Y2K, but their increased assurance underscores their debt not to the Arctic Monkeys but the Strokes. Honing the hooks and beefing up the production wind up whittling away whatever British eccentricities that were lingering on The Balcony, but where Alex Turner's crew followed Josh Homme down a desert rabbithole, this crew values precision.
During a recent interview with Catfish and the Bottlemen, a journalist took it upon himself to quiz frontman Van McCann about the lyrics on the band’s second album, The Ride. First McCann was called upon to elucidate a track called Twice, which the journalist thought might be a complaint about the monotony of life as a touring musician. “The line ‘I don’t mind getting high in mine, shouting over music’ is about when I moved into cottage with my mate and we were having a smoke … shouting over music,” offered McCann in response.
Catfish & The Bottlemen’s rise from pub-circuit obscurity to the top of the indie-rock food chain has been a tale of Leicester City-esque proportions. With their weird name, laddish leanings and meat-and-potatoes musical philosophy, Van McCann’s lot were unfancied and unfashionable from the get-go, but somehow contrived to turn that to their advantage; indeed, their success could almost be viewed as a protest vote against the slow, unheralded demise of the working-class British guitar band. Suffice to say, when it came to the group’s 2014 debut ‘The Balcony’, the people spoke louder than the critics – NME included – and ensured The Bottlemen had the last laugh.
When Catfish and the Bottlemen dropped debut LP “The Balcony” in 2015, the Welsh quartet earned praise for merging indie-icon influences like the Kooks and Oasis with energetic choruses and industrious production. The group wasn’t particularly meditative or even remotely modish, but it had moxie. It’s dismaying to see that fire doused throughout “The Ride,” a sophomore record that does Catfish few favors in exposing its limited lyrical scope (mostly concerned with lost lovers) and tedious reliance on shoehorned guitar solos and uniform drum lines.
Latest saviors of British guitar rock, Catfish & the Bottlemen keep the faith of two guitars, reedy vocals, and melodies made for lighter-waving on second album The Ride. Tunes borrowing from Oasis and Echo & the Bunnymen via the clean, anthemic sound producer Dave Sardy provided for Jet, the UK quartet doesn't even try to sound new. Rather, "7" and "Anything" ride big rhythm guitar hooks and Van McCann's comfort-food Brit croon.