The death-knell for traditional rock music has long been ringing in the ears of die-hard fans and touring bands up and down the country like an unwanted bout of tinnitus – Catfish And The Bottlemen have seemingly never received the memo.
In rebuttal to the latest wave of contemporaries taking influence from punk rock and hardcore (Slaves, Idles), Van McCann has steadfastly reiterated in interviews that ‘everybody has started thinking too much outside the box, trying to be arty and different, we wanted to stay inside the box’.
Despite hardened critics perceiving this stance in a negative light and indicative of a lack of ambition, it remains difficult to argue that the band aren’t at least staying true to their word. It also brings into question a long-discussed topic of music through the ages: should your beloved band evolve creatively, or would you prefer them to stay exactly as they are?
As in many other walks of life, embracing change often comes down to personal preference and temperament. Music is no different; take the Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino. A far cry from jagged guitar riffs and biting social commentary, it was observed in some quarters as a masterful, jazz-infused ode to modern life through the metaphorical medium of space travel, in others as a meandering, confused body of work from an artist indulging his ego without a thought for fans of previous records.
Therein lies the delicate trapeze act of musicians wanting to appeal to their growing creative instincts without alienating the fanbase that keeps you from having to consider a more conventional nine-to-five occupation. Catfish And The Bottlemen have resolutely stuck to what both they and their devoted fanbase have become accustomed to on this their third album, continuing the theme of showcasing driving guitar-based choruses atop relatable lyrics of struggling romance.
Opener and first single Longshot is a typically anthemic sentiment on taking a gamble with a relationship seemingly just out of reach. Near-isolated vocals from McCann are backed by steady, palm-muted guitar with the verse-chorus-verse rhythm shifts reflective of the rollercoaster of emotions the track portrays.
Fluctuate chimes in next as a further signifier of an intent to craft as many stadium-filling tracks as possible, alluding to McCann’s previous acknowledgement that his songwriting process often considers live audience reaction above all else. Sure to be a crowd favourite, the track rapidly swaps gently floating guitar notes and pondering lyrics with strident bursts of guitar accompanied by an increasing use of poetic enjambment from McCann on the chorus as he teases the listener with subtle pauses that bridge the lines to form one complete thought.
Completing the quartet of singles released before the album, 2all and Conversation continue the conveyor belt of ear-splitting choruses bookended by stuttering guitar parts. The former’s lyrical cries detail a timely observation of how our personal and work lives – as well as our interactions with social media – can often dictate or distort healthy thought process, while the latter recalls the abrasive lyrical and instrumental cut-through found in abundance on debut album The Balcony.
Plucked chords and lovelorn lyrics abound on Sidetrack, where McCann rivals Razorlight’s Somewhere Else for most awkwardly literal lyric of recent memory when he states that, ‘The driver insists that if we’re going to duck the traffic then we need to take the bridge, and we do’. Besides the clumsy metaphorical wordplay, McCann manages to deliver another crowd-pleasing dose of elevated power-chord runs that will have stadium and festival crowds bobbing in unison.
Encore, bafflingly placed in the midway point, has laid-back vocal intonation and nonchalant strumming more akin to US west coast guitar music in the intro, and forms a welcome diversion as the track builds into a grunge-pop ode to breaking out of dull routine. Intermission heralds the closing with a palpitating, Foals-aping guitar part representing the closest Catfish have come so far in producing a psychedelic slice of rock.
Mission represents one of the more ambitious tracks in terms of length as additional variety in rhythm ensures the track doesn’t outstay its welcome, an amalgamation of chugging guitar chords, lambasting chorus and bridge segments all rounded off with a piercing solo and crashing instrumental outro. Overlap concludes with echoes of Razorlight’s Golden Touch in the opening riff, making way for the now customary verse-chorus-verse template complete with soaring guitar solo and catchy melody.
There may be little deviation on The Balance from a well-trodden path, but this isn’t likely to affect the demographic that will no doubt be worshiping at the altar of Catfish And The Bottlemen’s fevered live shows this summer.