Catfish and the Bottlemen Walk a Thin Line on The Balance

There might not be a more fitting title for Catfish and the Bottlemen‘s third full-length album than The Balance. In fact, our impression upon first listen was that the band has mellowed out in their older age.

Sure, lead singer Van McCann is only 26 years old, but he’s been writing songs since he was 14 and has been touring in a pretty successful band since he was 21. He and his band have lived a lot of life in the five years that they’ve risen to fame, and understandably, their latest release reflects that.

Immediately, the first song (and lead single) off the album, “Longshot,” shows off a steadier, more controlled side of the band. This is no longer the same group of boys wailing about girlfriends. There’s an almost unexpected maturity from it — or at least unexpected from a band that has made a name for themselves in their simplicity.

Yes, it’s the typical rock band “beating the odds” song, but it’s not exactly angry. It’s tired. It’s jaded. If a song could roll its eyes at you or nonchalantly take a drag of a cigarette, this would be the one. This song isn’t saying “we made it just to spite you,” this song is flat out ignoring you.

Generally, the first half of this album comes across like the band was deep in apathy while writing it. Not that any track from the top of this album is bad — far from it — it’s just that none if it is particularly memorable. With that said, the general apathy feels intentional. After all, Catfish and the Bottlemen are now proper rockstars, and that sort of cool apathy is part of the proper rockstar package.

The second half of the album, however, comes across as the exact opposite. The yin to the first half’s yang. The balance, if you will. This half of the record is more of what we’re used to from Catfish and the Bottlemen. More of McCann’s raw vocals, and more of the up-tempo traditional garage rock that got the band famous in the first place.

Definitely, the two standout tracks on this album come from the latter half: “Encore” and “Basically.” Both songs feature the strong choruses that McCann’s vocals are particularly suited towards (what can we say, he sings desperation well) and “Basically” features a nice, crunchy guitar solo that’s missing in modern day rock music. Even within the context of a Catfish and the Bottlemen album, the solo was a welcome surprise.

While musically, The Balance is a fine, maybe even thoughtful album, that shows growth and development, unfortunately, the lyrics are sorely lacking in comparison. Not that every song needs to be a Shakespearean sonnet, or even that the songs are insufferably bad… they’re just “meh.”

To a degree, this is the third album where we’ve heard Catfish and the Bottlemen complain to music. And while the argument can always be made that “complaining to music” is what all any music is at its core, this album feels a little more on the nose about it. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a third album of relationship woes. Closer, subsequent listens reveal that the lyrical content goes deeper than that, but you’d have to give this album multiple full listens, and the casual listener, A.K.A. “someone who isn’t a deep Catfish and the Bottlemen fan” just isn’t going to do that.

Overall, The Balance is a fine album. It delivers exactly what the casual fan would want, while showing enough growth for deeper fans to feel like they’re not listening to The Balcony part two. It also has enough radio-friendly singles in it, so this will probably be the album that makes “Catfish and the Bottlemen” a household name. (After all, the single “Longshot” is their highest charting song to date.)

So really, who cares that Catfish and the Bottlemen are “staying inside the box?” They’ve got a good box to stay in, and we’re happy to support.

Featured Image: Universal Island Records