Catfish and the Bottlemen’s Van McCann has made no secret of his band’s affinity for former British rock gods Oasis, and on their new album The Ride, it’s a similitude they live and die by. When the band tore onto the music scene with their debut offering, 2014’s The Balcony, much was made of the group’s unabashed approach to rock. They wanted cheering crowds and fans who knew all the words. If Homer Simpson’s barbershop quartet The Be Sharps hadn’t already laid claim to the album title Bigger Than Jesus, one can imagine it would’ve at least been tossed around as a title for Catfish’s second record.
Instead, what comes through on The Ride isn’t the boastful arrogance of young lads bumming smokes and ready to conquer the world; it’s the more calculated sound of a band that has found success and must now choose carefully how to extend it. Much of the record falls flat by relying on the safe formula of McCann’s ragged vocals, uninspired lyrics, and a guitar solo for good measure.
At the same time, there are moments that speak to Catfish and the Bottlemen’s evolving efforts to mine the wealth of arena pop rock grandeur that Oasis so successfully employed for the majority of their career. They fully realize this quest on “Oxygen”, an uptempo track that embraces the pulsing refrain and soaring chorus structure of golden era tracks like “She’s Electric”. The problem with “Oxygen” is how sharply it throws the rest of the record into stark relief.
Opener “7” stretches a stripped down guitar line into an acoustic bridge while relying on the sing-along potential of a solid but unremarkable chorus. It has the skeleton of something to be embellished upon, a song in need of the charming chaos employed to great effect on past Catfish singles like “Kathleen” and “Cocoon” — but that chaos is not to be found on The Ride. In fact, it’s precisely what’s missing on songs like “Soundcheck”, where glitzy production has smoothed out the edges that gave The Balcony an endearingly rougher tone. This isn’t to say the blame should fall on producer Dave Sardy, a veteran of the industry, but more in Catfish’s misguided desire to fix a sound that was never broken.
“Heathrow” does its best to emulate the feel of confessional acoustic fare like “Wonderwall”, but lacks the earworm DNA so deeply embedded in the monster hits it strives to become. Regardless, the song still stands as one of The Ride’s more impressive tracks, putting some shine on McCann’s singing prowess while creating a convincingly brooding atmosphere. By comparison, “Glasgow,” the album’s other acoustic number, is numbingly simplistic, a guitar line that might as well be a GarageBand sample layered under bare vocals.
In a statement to accompany the album, McCann said, “I feel like everybody started thinking too outside the box trying to be arty and different. We wanted to stay inside the box.” The line may make for a pithy quote, but it underscores what keeps The Ride from advancing the intriguing careers of a group of delinquents that used to busk on the streets of North Wales and dream of making it big.
Make no mistake: The Ride is going to serve its intended purpose. “Postpone” is tailor-made for mainstream alternative radio play, and festival crowds can look forward to the dirty, slurred guitar solo from “Anything”. Catfish and the Bottlemen have made a record that will sell, but not one that will linger.
Essential Tracks: “Oxygen”, “Heathrow”