Album Review: Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balcony

By on Thursday, 2nd October 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

While Arctic Monkeys are busy both seducing and being seduced by America, and psychedelia is experiencing a powerful revival, the mainstream British guitar band format is arguably languishing (the efforts of a ragtag bunch of Britpop has-beens aside). Step forward Catfish and the Bottlemen, a vaguely Welsh group who specialise in big, guitar-y choruses and the occasional swear word. Considering they’ve been together for years, plugging away with local gigs whilst subsisting on nothing but dole money and dreams of stardom, the past few months must represent an unparalleled whirlwind of activity for Catfish and the Bottlemen. It all comes to a head with the release of their début album, ‘The Balcony.’

The last year or so has seen them release no less than six singles, first on the Communion label and then on Island records, which means ‘The Balcony’ is less album, more greatest hits collection of the band’s short career so far. Album tracks are outnumbered by single releases, which means it takes until track six before a previously unheard song makes an appearance. ‘Homesick’, ‘Kathleen’, ‘Cocoon’, ‘Pacifier’, ‘Rango’ and ‘Fallout’ will already be known to keen Catfish followers, and to this reviewer’s ears ‘Sidewinder’ sounds familiar, too. So the question is, by collecting their singles together and throwing in some B-sides, does ‘The Balcony’ add up to a more coherent release than the singles taken alone?

Sadly, not quite. Despite how appealing the occasional guilty pleasure of 3 minutes of chewy pop-rock is, trying to digest 11 such morsels in one sitting serves to highlight the genre’s inherent one-note dynamic. It’s a single paradigm – crunchy guitars, classically gritty British frontman vocals, big drums, loads of lead guitar flying over the top – and every song bar one is constructed from the same ingredients. Which is not to say there aren’t individual exciting moments here – McCann does have a genuine talent for delivering a hook-laden lead vocal, as heard particularly on ‘Kathleen’, and an everyman way with lyrics, generally concerning slightly tawdry, drunken liasons with the fairer sex (on ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Business’, for example), enlivened by the liberal use of F-bombs.

After the singles have come and gone, the mid-album ‘Hourglass’ starts acoustically, showcasing McCann’s ability to deliver a folky vocal style, his chugging rhythm guitar style, and fondness for swearing, and contributes a welcome, if modest, respite from the previous five songs’ walls of overdriven electric guitars. But after that it’s literally ‘Business’ as usual, as the overdrive pedals get stomped on, with five more big-hitters to come before the end. Subtle it’s not; effective – at least in the sense of getting people excited and jumping around – it certainly is.

None of these songs are likely to change anyone’s life or appear in a Desert Island Discs top 10. But what they do have the power to do is put a big, fat grin on one’s face for half an hour or so, particularly if they’re played loud and accompanied by a paper cup of slopping lager. Unlike sniffy, jaded reviewers, subtlety and complexity are clearly unimportant to a big chunk of the record-buying public. Big riffs and infectious enthusiasm go a long way, and with their first post-album tour sold out across the country (a tribute to the boisterous and powerful Catfish live show, the energy of which isn’t quite captured here), there’s no doubt that Catfish and the Bottlemen are one of the big cheeses of British guitar music right now. All they need to prove it is an offshore bank account.

6.5/10

‘The Balcony’, Catfish and the Bottlemen‘s debut album on Communion / Island Records, is available now. They are on tour in October and November 2014, as well as in March and April 2015 as recently announced.

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