Words by Joe Gilbertson
Catfish and the Bottlemen are one of the UK’s fastest rising rock bands, known for playing monotonously unexciting landfill indie designed solely to produce panning shots of festival crowds jumping up and down to a radio-friendly chorus. Their second record The Ride doesn’t really make a single attempt to switch up this formula, simply churning the same base ingredients into something with the same unappetizing consistency as ever. There’s relatively little of notability to discuss: a few lazy guitar solos that use effects pedals as a substitute for creativity, plenty of chord changes that you can tell are meant to be quite affecting in a sort of empty nostalgic way, and plenty of choruses that are fairly catchy in a sort of raising your arms at a festival way – but nothing that manages to elevate the mood to anything beyond average. The band’s sound is so commonplace and indistinct that it’s almost hard to point to any specific influences. Sure, there are shades of Arctic Monkeys and latter-day Kings of Leon, but for the most part, this just sounds like any other four-on-the-floor, “are-you-with-me-Glasto” BBC-approved run through of worn-out landfill indie tropes. It’s not even especially dislikeable for that matter: Catfish take absolutely no risks that could ever result in a bad song, and for much of this album they sound so half-arsed about their music it’s hard to even get that angry at them for their mediocrity. On a musical level, this album isn’t even worth discussing. Lyrically, however, Catfish descend to a new low.
Frontman Van McCann’s lyrics are curiously entertaining: the less well written and thought provoking they get, the harder it becomes to simply zone out from them. Instead, either through morbid curiosity or simply the lack of anything else engrossing happening on the record – these tales of young dysfunctional love have a habit of forcing you to sit, listen and grimace. McCann seems desperate to master the art of understated romanticism and observational commentary on everyday life, but falls horrifically flat of achieving either. The resulting product is 40 minutes of banal sixth-form poetry that mixes the boringly vague (“I wanted everything at once // until you blew me out my mind // now I don’t need nothing”) with the unhelpfully specific (“we’ll be talking about your background // and how it never left you much // because you grew up in a small town”, or a pre-chorus of simply “tell your sister to wait”) into something laughably prosaic. Lines like “I used to carry you through town // you used to smother me in lippy // now if we ever get an hour together // it’s like I’m on the outside” and “does he take you the Liquid Rooms after work // just to unwind you but then goes and makes it worse // can he do what I do for you?” paint images of troubled relationships from the perspective of someone apparently incapable of feeling human emotion; as if McCann has never actually experienced any of these romances himself, but is doing his best to invent them by stringing small non-events from his own life with whiteboy indie cliches.
You’ve got to laugh at McCann, and the strange world he inhabits in which giving someone heart-shaped balloons is a truly romantic gesture (‘Red’) and bands like the Pixies never existed. But nothing in McCann’s weird world quite compares to the concept of Catfish and the Bottlemen headlining arenas with music this bland and irrelevant.