By Amy Hanna
Suggested Tracks: ‘Soundcheck’, ‘Glasgow’, ‘Red’
From the first slashes of electric guitar, Catfish and the Bottlemen’s sophomore album The Ride propels listeners forward in a haze of smoke and neon. The Ride is the fuzzy, charged follow up to the British rock outfit’s electrifying debut, The Balcony. I’ve found through my first listen that the short-form album titles aren’t the only thing Catfish and the Bottlemen’s two records have in common; I’ll get to my verdict on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing later. But for now, know that The Ride is aptly titled: strap yourselves in through the very real, very vibrant journey of the lives of up-and-coming rock stars in the modern era.
The album opens with the album’s second single, “7”—a punchy, unapologetic lament of missed connections. Lead vocalist and lyricist Van McCann sounds carefree despite the regret-dripped lyrics, but it works. By the time the chorus rolls around a second time, the easy, jangly instrumentals settle, and everything feels comfortable and well paced. The Ride savors a lot of moments like this: for example, in the edgy yet sugary-sweet “Anything”, and the perfectly nostalgic, plucky acoustic track “Glasgow.” But of course, this is Catfish and the Bottlemen, and the speed picks up soon enough.
I was accosted with wall of fuzzy guitar and crashing symbol as soon as the track “Twice” began. This song, above all others, feels most reminiscent to the Bottlemen’s debut The Balcony, as the song starts with the signature blare that feels almost trademark in one of the band’s very first singles, “Cocoon”. McCann laments once more, over “every hangover my head feels” and “every ex I didn’t treat right”. The song ends, and “Soundcheck”, The Ride’s lead single, begins. When “Soundcheck” was first released, McCann referred to it as “the one”, and I’m inclined to agree. Excuse my bias, but I have never felt quite so alive as I did the first time I heard the guitar solo Johnny “Bondy” Bond cooked up as it ripped through the bridge of the song (and the second time, and the third, and so on). I definitely have Bondy to thank for helping me fall headfirst in love with guitars again, just when I was beginning to think I’d heard every solo or progression from every other indie rock band. The guitars on The Ride are its biggest strength, setting varied paces and carrying McCann’s vocals and stories from start to finish.
The album roars on, high velocity and quiet cruising in equal measure. The album feels incredibly romantic at the midway point, as McCann croons about the girls he pines over on “Oxygen” and “Emily”. The album takes a sharp turn with “Red”, a biting, vitriolic attack to an unsatisfied lover. McCann bellows, “Hey/How about I change?” in a chorus drenched in harsh acidity, and the sharp thematic contrast feels like the most genuine element of the whole record.
And with one final crash, The Ride is over. Catfish and the Bottlemen have managed to pack wise sincerity and youthful fire into a bite-sized morsel of a record that’ll sound perfect behind a smoky, gritty summer night. But maybe The Ride is too similar to the band’s debut album. Maybe it’s better. No matter what anyone decides, there’s a comfort in knowing a band knows themselves, that there’s not a drop of confusion or doubt as to what the finished product should sound like. The Ride feels like a battle cry; one that everybody involved in making this album is shouting at the same time, at the very top of their voice. And I think that’s more than enough reason to take this ride over and over again.
Buy The Ride on iTunes here, and catch Catfish and the Bottlemen at a gig or festival near you!