Catfish & The Bottlemen’s rise from pub-circuit obscurity to the top of the indie-rock food chain has been a tale of Leicester City-esque proportions. With their weird name, laddish leanings and meat-and-potatoes musical philosophy, Van McCann’s lot were unfancied and unfashionable from the get-go, but somehow contrived to turn that to their advantage; indeed, their success could almost be viewed as a protest vote against the slow, unheralded demise of the working-class British guitar band. Suffice to say, when it came to the group’s 2014 debut ‘The Balcony’, the people spoke louder than the critics – NME included – and ensured The Bottlemen had the last laugh.
Yet the frontman is also self-aware enough to recognise his limitations. “I call people like [a]David Bowie[/a] and [a]Lady Gaga[/a] ‘artists’,” he recently told one interviewer, “but I’m not one.” He’s a crowd-pleaser, and his second album is engineered to do just that: ‘The Ride’ is confident, self-assured and terrific fun at times, and harbours no illusions about being anything more than that.
As you might have guessed, then, the order of the day is more of the same. There’s a world-weariness that wasn’t present on ‘The Balcony’ – “Larry, call a load of smoke in / I wanna disappear for days” orders McCann on opening track ‘7’, while ‘Anything’ finds him brooding about how “I don’t wanna picture our first-born / If you’ve stopped discussing names with me” – but McCann’s world continues to revolve around girls, gigs and going out. The hooks are plentiful, the energy is palpable and even the quieter moments, like the jaunty acoustic shuffle of ‘Glasgow’, are delivered with charm and cheekiness.
As on their debut, the sound is slick and polished and the songs are snappy and unpretentious, but there’s a lack of wit or invention. More tellingly, while McCann might boast of having written “hundreds” of songs, he’s yet to pen a bona fide classic – ‘Soundcheck’ gives it a spirited go, but The Bottlemen still don’t have an ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’, ‘Wonderwall’ or ‘Time For Heroes’ in their arsenal. Certainly, the choruses of songs like ‘Twice’ or ‘Postpone’ are impressive in the moment, but they don’t stay with you. For a band hellbent on world domination, Catfish & The Bottlemen appear strangely at ease with just being good.