“If you’ve been doing the same sort of thing for a long time; like working your job or studying in school, or – well – playing in a band – it can be easy to fall into routines and habits. You tend to stick with the kind of things that feel familiar or comfortable.”
The statement above was offered by Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe on CBC Radio about The National ahead of their eighth full-length record. Using it to precede the notion that they [The National] refuse to “tend to stick with the kind of things that feel familiar or comfortable” is a huge juxtaposition to what CATFISH AND THE BOTTLEMEN present to us with latest LP, THE BALANCE.
Why is the quote relevant then, you may ask. The short answer is that Tetteh-Wayoe has summed up Catfish and the Bottlemen‘s approach to ‘new music.’ New music is placed in inverted commas because what they’ve given us with The Balance is nothing we haven’t heard before. It is the third instalment of their unspoken and non-confirmed “The ___” series where every track has a one-word title; each of which can be compared to previous offerings The Balcony and The Ride in terms of where each places on the tracklisting respectively.
The “routines” that Tetteh-Wayoe mentions is evident here – it is evident, too, when we look at setlists from earlier this year compared to when The Ride was in its early stages. A couple of new tracks dropped here and there, but on the whole, a lot of the same as what we’ve heard before. Fans, like myself, who have caught the Welsh indie outfit numerous times are relishing for something a bit ‘out there’ and spectacular from a band that have already sold out their latest tour and cemented their place at the top (or at least high up) of festival posters across the country. At the same time, though, we’re content with Catfish and the Bottlemen giving us more of what’s come before because, let’s be honest, what has been given to us before hasn’t been particularly bad.
In an era where Arctic Monkeys are going intergalactic, Foals are releasing two albums in a year, The National are once again reinventing their sound some twenty years on; Catfish and the Bottlemen have played it extremely safe with this release. That isn’t to say it is a bad album. If anything it is the opposite – there are no faux political anthems, nothing particularly ‘non-Catfish-esque’, and on the whole nothing that screams ‘this is different to The Ride or The Balcony.’ What there are, though, are indie tunes that will no doubt work excellently both live and on record. There will be legions of fans across the UK and beyond who wanted The Balcony 2.0; a request that isn’t really THAT brow-raising. Is The Balance effectively The Balcony 2.0? Well, it is closer to their debut than their sophomore, but that isn’t to say that their third LP shouldn’t be respected as a stand alone release.
Basically, The Balance isn’t as much of a reinvention of Catfish and the Bottlemen as it is a coming of age record. It is an opportunity for them to ‘make something’ of The Balance when touring it instead of falling into a trap of insisting on pulling out Tyrants as a ‘finale’ piece – realistically, though, most of The Balance will probably be shelved and they will bow down to the fans request to give Kathleen or Cocoon or Emily a run out before flashing lights accompany Tyrants as their way of saying thank you and goodnight. They’ve always played to the fans from the £8-a-ticket social club days and, to be honest, if you didn’t catch them when they were turning up everywhere from Doncaster to Northampton, Newcastle to Boardmasters Festival, then that ship has sailed. You’ll be able to see them on festival stages around the world, yes, but don’t expect to see them back at Middlesbrough‘s Westgarth Social Club any time soon.
It will be interesting to see how the latest setlists reflect The Balance, but if it is a record like before they’ll be touring it for the foreseeable future. What is particularly enjoyable about Catfish and the Bottlemen – and once again with The Balance – is exactly what I’ve aforementioned – there are no pretentious, non-committed lyrics on any of the three records that frontman Van McCann doesn’t truly believe in. Perhaps one day they will become activists for something they are passionate about, but until then we should savour every single moment that we can turn up at a Catfish and the Bottlemen show, forget our woes, scream Longshot, Sidewinder and Oxygen at one another and just enjoy being in a venue alongside fans, friends and the band.
If you want an album that commentates on political affairs, dig out a copy of Idles – Joy As An Act of Resistance. If you want an album with meaty and memorable hooks, pull out a copy of any Queens of the Stone Age record. If you want an album where a band has rewritten the rules and reinvented themselves three records into a successful career, pull out a copy of Arctic Monkeys – Humbug. Trying to place a band who, to be honest, seemingly follow the age-old philosophy of ‘if it isn’t broke don’t fix it’ into something more than feel-good (although Hourglass from The Balcony is bitterly depressing) indie rock is the same level of ridiculous as being a connoisseur of real ale and being disappointed when you order a pint of Heineken, or being a wine snob and being shocked that the ‘house red’ doesn’t have the hallmarks and award-winning traits of a niché French vineyard product. The comparisons are endless and no matter how much you want Catfish and the Bottlemen to be the next ‘voice of the people’, they will continue to sing about chasing the girl, continue to create catchy choruses and invariably create records that can be on in the background without having to think THAT much about them.
To go full-circle, Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe said “it can be easy to fall into routines and habits” and although on the surface it appears that Catfish and the Bottlemen have not just fell, but dived headfirst into these routines and habits – they have actually thought very wisely about their artistic direction and realised that releasing albums titled “The ___” and using their tried and tested aesthetic works.
Don’t listen to The Balance if you’re expecting anything out-of-the-ordinary; but likewise, don’t write Catfish and the Bottlemen off because you’re not prepared to accept them for what they’ve labelled themselves as: a commercially successful, three-album indie rock outfit.
This isn’t Radiohead releasing Kid A. This isn’t Arctic Monkeys releasing Humbug. This isn’t even Jake Bugg releasing On My One. What it is, though, is Catfish and the Bottlemen showing the world that things will be done on their terms – no matter how much critics, naysayers or disillusioned fans dislike it.