Catfish and the Bottlemen ‘The Ride’ – Review

5 Jun

Catfish and the bottlemen have arguably become the biggest Young British rock group. Sad, bewildering even, but true. Their ‘Best breakthrough’ gong at this year’s Brits sealed off a campaign that saw them put out a platinum, top ten album and scale the upper end of the bill at all the obvious festivals. In 1986 it was The Smiths. In 1996 it was Oasis. In 2006 it was Arctic Monkeys. In 2016 it’s Catfish and the Bottlemen?

How this all happened is beyond me. Now, I’m not immune to the charms of old fashioned, meat and potatoes indie rock bands and I’ve given spirited defences to recent revivalist albums by the likes of Peace, Circa Waves and Spector. But Catfish and the Bottlemen just don’t hold up to even the most generous scrutiny. How have they attained this level of success? It can’t be for superficial reasons – they dress badly in dreary black, have awful haircuts and can’t really be called cute. It’s not for musical reasons either; they peddle the same three chord rock that we’ve been hearing for years in such a mundane and predictable way it almost beggars belief. They have absolutely nothing on the landfill indie bands that are now retrospectively and unfairly mocked. Has the the stock of British guitar music fallen so dramatically that Catfish and the Bottlemen are the only option for young music fans seeking salvation from guitar gods? What a depressing thought.

‘The Ride’ follows as closely to ‘The Balcony’ as the similar title and album art design would suggest and a glimpse at the track listing reveals the tiresome theme of the album; the monotony of being on tour. If titles like ‘Soundcheck’, ‘Postpone’, ‘Glasgow’ and ‘Heathrow’ sound mundane well they’ve got nothing on the songs themselves. There is no dynamism to this music and the rhythm section is woefully inadequate. The band’s stock mode of attack is bash bash bash, strum strum, strum with the distortion up loud enough to distract but not quite enough to be a shoegazy thing.

The lyrics are truly laughable. I genuinely don’t think Van whatshisface has a single interesting thought or insightful thing to say. His songs are about trivial things that few other people would waste ink on and he doesn’t bring the beauty or fascination out of the mundane in the way that say Courtney Barnett or Alex Turner do. Take lead single ‘Soundcheck’ where the chorus goes ‘I could chill you out and drive you through the night to your sister’s / you can fall asleep with my jacket for a cover / and wake up just to join me to smoke.’ Firstly, he has a really unhealthy obsession with smoking, like he mentions it on four or five tracks. He’s like a teenager hanging out behind the bike shed desperately trying to impress older kids. Secondly, What point is he trying to make here? What a dreadfully boring thing to sing about. There is no romance or emotion in his utterly drained lyricism.

Half the time it feels like he’s written down his thoughts as they pop in to his head, totally unedited. ‘Forget the time cos I’m 7 hours behind / it’s probably good I didn’t call though (but I also want to).’ He chops and changes like this all the time. His lyrics don’t even aspire to the general, vague platitudes of obvious forefathers like The Verve and Oasis. ‘After all you’re my wonderwall’ and ‘so Sally can wait’ lacked poetry but that didn’t matter when you glued your experiences to them and thousands of people with different interpretations reverberated the words around the stadium. Van the man’s lyrics are simply too grey to catch the public’s imagination (surely?).

Straining to say something positive, I’ll point out the proficient production courtesy of the professional Dan Sardy (from reading recent interviews it appears getting anything interesting out of the band was like getting blood from a stone). It’s remarkable how poor Catfish and the Bottlemen are at writing the type of anthems they so clearly try to emulate. Where are the hooks? Where are the pay offs? Where is the drama? Where is the emotional resonance? From start to finish this is a dreadfully bland and unmemorable collection of mid paced, passionless plodders. But it’s also number one this week. That a terrible album reached number one is in itself not unusual, we’re used to that, but what is depressing is that Catfish and the Bottlemen are one of the very few rock bands capable of attaining that lofty chart position. You would have hoped they’d use their position to create something more inspirational; because if this is the one rock album kids are going to hear this year then what hope is there for the future of the genre?




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