ALBUM REVIEW: Catfish and the Bottlemen – “The Balance”

This review was originally posted on Highlight Magazine in April 2019.

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After three years since the release of their sophomore album, The Ride, Catfish and the Bottlemen are back with The Balance, an eleven-track album that is sure to please those who have been waiting so long to hear new material from the Welsh rock band.

“Fluctuate,” the second track on the album that Catfish and the Bottlemen have included in their live sets over the past year, is a perfect example of the overall sound found on The Balance. With catchy verses filled with melodically personal lyrics, the choruses are BIG with heavy guitars and domineering drums. This pattern is found throughout most of the album, the majority of the songs’ main focus being the choruses.

“Sidetrack” is a tune reminiscent of something we could have heard on The Ride, featuring tongue-twisting lyrics that narrate the story of a struggling relationship that builds up into a big percussion heavy chorus. While this song would offer an energy-filled experience when watched live, it just overall seems to fall a bit flat. The lyrics are strong and are able to tell a detailed story in a short amount of time, but it’s missing a quality that would elevate it above being just another guitar rock song.

Stylistically, Catfish and the Bottlemen haven’t strayed too far away from the formulas used on their past records, sticking to the guitar music they have gained a reputation for. In three years, however, they have shown a lot of growth in terms of their songwriting and the vocal capabilities of frontman Van McCann.

“Encore” greatly shows McCann’s vocal growth, presenting a crisper and more in control vocal than what we have heard in the past. Particularly in the chorus and bridge, the strength and control in his voice are evident, showing more range that elevates his performance, adding more dimension to the track. This song also presents memorable and relatable lyrics in the bridge that truly help tie the whole song together, “so tell me when your works up, take over my whole week ‘cause I’m only here playing up so that I can come and fall at your feet.”

“Basically” is one of the strongest songs on The Balance. A gritty guitar riff is weaved throughout the track, adding an extra rock element while also offering a distinct moment on the whole album with a well-executed solo during the bridge. The lyrics are cleverly written, telling the personal moments within a relationship with infectious hooks and words that are bound to get stuck in the head of anyone who listens. It is also the song where the album title comes from, “I think we best just get the balance right because basically I do this all the time and lately we seem to have it right.”

A Catfish and the Bottlemen record wouldn’t be complete without a stripped down acoustic tune and that moment arrives on The Balance with “Intermission.” Driving the song are the staccato plucks of bass and guitar overlapped with the raw and casual vocals of McCann. With lyrics like “but nearly every other word that falls from your mouth keeps me hanging around,” it’s a short and sweet tune that helps break up the album, offering a refreshing moment that showcases their newfound growth as songwriters.

Sending the whole album off on a good note is “Overlap,” perhaps one of their grooviest songs to date. Featuring distinct guitar riffs that are reminiscent of what we hear on old The Kooks albums, “Overlap” starts out slow with McCann’s vocals at the forefront before slowly building up into a chaotic medley of electric guitars, drums and tambourines, McCann passionately singing relatable anecdotes about love before the whole thing ends on an abrupt note. It is very much comparative to “Outside” and “Tyrants,” the closing tracks of their previous albums, all three songs doing the job of closing out their records on disorderly energetic highs.

Overall, The Balance showcases Catfish and the Bottlemen’s growth as songwriters, presenting more complex lyrics about love and life than what we have heard in the past. With a few stand out moments both stylistically and vocally, it is clear that this is a Catfish and the Bottlemen album.

However, there hasn’t been anything incredibly innovative about this new batch of songs, the overall sound presenting nothing new from what we have heard before. In the end, it all comes down to what the listeners are looking for in this album – something experimentally new or something consistently familiar? Whatever the case may be, there’s no denying that this is a strong release from Catfish and the Bottlemen and as a band that has achieved the success they have with the music they have put out in the past, maybe the decision to stay in their lane and stick to what they know isn’t such a bad thing?