Catfish and The Bottlemen – ‘The Balance’ review

The Llandudno four-piece stick to the script with this assured third album of solid indie rock tunes. As they put it themselves: "Nothing's really changed"

A McDonalds’ meal is, for many, satisfying and delicious. It’s reliable, you know? You know what you’re getting. There are people who’ll tell you Llandudno four-piece Catfish & The Bottlemen are the Big Mac of indie rock, though they’re perhaps a cut above that – a Five Guys, or something. Across their two albums, 2014’s ‘The Balcony’ and 2016’s ‘The Ride’, they’ve perfected the verse-chorus-verse, chugging indie sound that kept so many of us in winkle-pickers throughout the mid-noughties. Would they change it up for the big comeback?

Nah. What they’re doing clearly works – Catfish will pack out arenas and festival main stages during their upcoming UK tour, and last year received something of a Welsh heroes’ welcome at the 10,000-capacity Cardiff Castle (now intimate by their standards), where they entered the stage to The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’, all dressed in black – and statement of intent if ever there was one. But of course there’s no Fab Four-style experimentation here. There are solid pop-rock hooks and plenty of frontman Van McCann’s much-touted swagger.

It’s been noted that Catfish have never really had a signature song, a fact that he turned into a virtue in an interview with Billboard: “The thing with us – and I’ve always loved this – [is] we’ve never had a one-off tune. When you come to a show, you’ll see that they sing the whole album word for word.” In truth, ‘The Balance’ could probably do with a couple of standalone bangers, although the assured opener – and lead single – ‘Longshot’ comes close, with a coiled pre-chorus and jubilant release. McCann has said of their recent live shows: “[‘Longshot’ represents] definitely the best reaction we’ve had to a first song”.

Elsewhere, there a moments of Foo Fighters-style hard rock (‘Sidetrack’), arch breakdowns in the vein of early Franz Ferdinand (do not adjust your sets – yes, we’re still in 2019) and frank admissions: “Nothing’s really changed between then and now”, McCann confesses on ‘Basically’, a chiming classic rock belter that, naturally, lives up to its billing. The lyric could sum up this technically accomplished and assured record, which doesn’t do a massive amount to deviate from the template of Catfish’s debut. Well, sometimes the formula just works.

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