After making waves with their frustrated and sex-infused first record, The Balcony, things seem to have changed a lot in the two years it took to produce, The Ride. First off, Australian-come-Welsh lead singer, Van McCann, seems to have had a cup of tea and a long think about the way he presents his relationships to the world. There’s no more of this “I’ve got to give it to you, you give me problems when you are not in the mood” business that helped it’s way through The Balcony. Indeed, that’s long gone – but this record isn’t a total sop-fest either. The band has grown up, albeit through their differences, and the music has grown up with them. But it’s not necessarily for the best.
The first major point of difference Catfish and the Bottlemen made on this record was to stick the best three songs in at number one, two and three;‘7’, ‘Twice’ and ‘Soundcheck’ are undeniably the best tracks on this record. They’ve not only got the highest production quality, but they have that real angsty indie-pop sound that Catfish and the Bottlemen are known for. Heavy guitars mixed with danceable drums as McCann sings lazily – vocals to which you would thing he’s speaking to you in the pub – cut with a few crunchy lyrics for emphasis. The rest of the tracks on the record, however, take a different turn. This could be really, really problematic for some fans. At first, The Ride leads you into thinking it’s just a grown-up version of The Balcony, but it’s anything but. A lot of the lyrics have lost their depth at an aesthetic level, meaning you have to search very deep within the songs to find out what McCann is singing about – and let’s be honest, not many people are going to do that. However, with that being said, one thing they do well is writing about very normal things. Most of this record revolves around the concept of long distance relationships, an problematic situation McCann has had a hard time dealing with.
A great example of this resides in single, ‘Red’. The lyrics seem very throwaway initially, but as soon as the chorus hits, if you listen in, you get hit a lot harder than you expect. In fact, it’s probably the most emotionally charged track on the record. McCann cries out the chorus: “Hey! How about I change? And how about you love…me the same? Hey! And how about I change, and how about you love me again?” Check mate, right in the feels. The only problem is, it doesn’t become transparent until you listen deeply to the chorus. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword – there’s that beautiful normality simplicity to the verse lyrics, but if you blink during the chorus, you’ll miss what he’s singing about. To make up for the loss in aesthetic raw reality of this record, there’s two acoustic tracks. One of which, is almost too stripped back; ‘Glasgow’ sounding a little out of place amongst the smooth production of the rest of the record, almost to the point where it’s a bit jarring. This is later emphasised by the gorgeous ‘Heathrow’, a single to which is very reminiscent of ‘Hourglass’ from the previous record.
Reflecting on these differences, this unmasks a deeper issue where Catfish and the Bottlemen have lost a bit of credibility with this record, their track ‘Emily’ has an almost identical chorus to ‘Soundcheck’. All in all and for fans in particular, this record is not going to be what they expected. It almost seems like this record is a bit of an attempt at an explanation for their first record, giving previous tracks newly adorned back-stories. Unfortunately, if this was the desired result, it is not the final effect. The Ride overall is not a very satisfying record, especially when comparing the underwhelming properties of ‘Soundcheck’ and ‘Emily’. Upon finishing the record, you feel like you have to listen to The Balcony to redeem them in your mind.
The Ride is available now via Caroline Australia.