Everything is a copy of a copy. At some point in your favourite band’s career, they will heavily borrow from their favourite band, in order to structure that killer riff that you love so much. Everything derides from something else – that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Influences play a huge part in sound development. When an artist’s sound becomes completely homogeneous, however, that’s where imitation stops being the sincerest form of flattery, and lawyers have to be called.
Catfish and the Bottlemen have been labelled as just another rip-off Brit-rock band in an increasingly squashed market. Granted, the sound of their influences is tangible – frontman Van McCann’s vocal delivery is eerily similar to The Strokes’ Julian Casablanca’s style in parts. There was a glimmer of uniqueness on their number one debut, ‘The Balcony’ – a snowflake among the snowfall – in that their writing is simple and painstakingly honest, though often cloaked in the bravado that lends itself to youth.
‘The Ride’ is not an entirely dissimilar affair. The singles are textbook-Bottlemen releases – 7 is another lament documenting the struggle of touring and being single, but not really single. It is a character and a style that McCann is most at ease playing, complimented by a heartfelt chorus of longing, and pared back instrumentation. Twice, again, doesn’t break much new ground with its signature tongue-in-cheek delivery over a slippery bassline on the pre-chorus: “From every hangover my head feels/To every ex I didn’t treat right/To every Monday I call in sick/To every argument I let slide …”
Percussionist Bob Hall outdoes himself on this record, exercising insane precision moving from the berserk, billowing beats of opening tracks 7 and Twice, to the clean, simple beats of the closing track Outside. Hall shines on Soundcheck, as do McCann and Johnny ‘Bondy’ Bond with the most expansive guitar solo of their careers. But, they certainly are running out of writing material beyond, ‘I’m in a band and it’s really hard to form solid relationships with people beyond the band’. Pass the tiny violin.
‘The Balcony’s softer moments served to be the album’s better ones – the same applies here. Anything sees McCann acknowledging that his better halves often have lives beyond his band, his ego and their messy relationship. Lyrically, it demonstrate progression, signalling back to Hourglass’ muted discussions of children, a subtle cue sure to picked up by fans.
“I don’t wanna picture our first born/If you’ve stopped discussing names with me …”
Glasgow leans dangerously close to Ed Sheeran-territory, with its neat acoustic plucks. It seems McCann is only capable of being vulnerable when all the other instruments fall out of play. Another LP highlight that doesn’t see the boys borrowing too heavily from their back catalogue is Red, a blistering assault of percussion and snaggled guitar that sees McCann turn from passively bitter to nothing short of venomous.
It’s unclear why Catfish and the Bottlemen felt the need to put another album out so quickly following their much-hyped debut. To describe their touring schedule as ‘unrelenting’ wouldn’t do it justice and it’s abundantly clear that ‘The Ride’ is a case of too much, too soon. While there isn’t much to demonize, it’s clear that, had they been giving more breathing space, the band could have delivered something considerably less forgettable. Tracks such as Postpone and Emily are wholly undeserving of a second press of the ‘play’ button.
It’s not good enough in this day-and-age to release an album that doesn’t do much to build on the last. Admittedly, however, they are young, and ‘The Ride’ won’t set them back substantially, given their legions of easily pleased fans. But with McCann having previously stated that the album would be like “setting off a little bomb in the music industry”, that impact is yet to be felt.