Written by Patsy Thayieng
Seemingly dropping from the face of the planet after opening for Green Day in America in late summer of 2017, Welsh rock band, Catfish and the Bottlemen have returned with their third studio album The Balance. The band is comprised of front man Van McCann, lead guitarist Johnny Bond, bassist Benji Blakeway, and Bob Hall on drums.
After years of McCann claiming that the band had three albums worth of material written and ready to go, the long absence of the third installment left fans wondering. This was quite the claim for McCann to make as of course with time comes growth and that’s exactly what The Balance is.
In a recent interview with BBC radio DJ, Steve Lamacq, when asked if The Balance was a collection of those old songs the band had been holding onto, the consensus between Bond and McCann had been that the songs were fairly new and had been written sporadically throughout tours and various travels.
The Balance is definitely different for Catfish. In addition to having no acoustic tracks unlike previous albums The Balcony and The Ride, The Balance is stylistically heavier and more dynamic. Catfish has been hailed an indie band but this album is more alternative rock than anything. Even the more ballad-y tunes such as “2all” have a rock element to them. The Balance sounds like what Catfish were meant to evolve into. It appears as though they’ve found the balance between juggling sounds like “2all” and heavier anthemic cuts such as “Longshot” and “Encore.”
Distance and time are recurring themes in this album. In debut single “Longshot” McCann speaks on tying up loose ends about not letting distance and time take its toll on a relationship. Betting on a dog with the odds stacked against it but it comes out anyway, that’s the longshot paying off.
In “Fluctuate” McCann recalls good nights and in “Intermission” the shortest and most eerie track on the album, a specific time in McCanns life is recalled. In “Overlap” McCann shares experiences of lives going on with or without him and overlapping over his existence. The concept of distance must be prevalent in their personal lives as the band made a name for themselves by touring non-stop and never failing to miss a year in the festival circuit. It’s clear that at this point in their careers in this day and age, much of their experiences with friends and family have been shared over the phone via text or facetime. This album is almost another spin on inquiries into relationships sustained by technology.
The dialogue in this album is conversational. McCann constantly references The Streets in interviews when citing influences. In The Balance more than the first two albums, The Streets’ influence in writing and lyricism is prominent. The lyrics are written in more than just a conversational tone though; the words in this project are introspective. The album is highly personal as McCann is singing about these intimate occurrences in his life. For example, he shouts out their tour manager, Steve, in “Basically” and he sings about his relationship with his father in “Conversation” and “Mission.”
The album is more than just the amalgamation of stanzas though. The words hardly steal the spotlight from the instruments. That’s the other thing about Catfish and the Bottlemen, all the cogs in the machine match the energy of the others. McCann is a powerhouse front man but that hardly matters when the lead guitar parts and solos are so on point, courtesy of Jonny Bond.
And yet the band doesn’t rely on heavy and face-melting guitars because the percussion is constantly consistent. Hall does more than keep the beat, the drums become an instrument of their own. In The Balance in particular, Blakeway showcases bass lines like guitar melodies in tracks like “Basically” and “Coincide.” The band doesn’t depend solely on vocal or guitar parts to sell and the fans wouldn’t keep showing up and showing out if they did. All the aspects of the music work dynamically which is something that has been true from the get go. It’s like Catfish hasn’t been doing anything different, they’ve just been fine tuning their art.
With three albums, a wealth of on the road experience and an abundance of stories this is a new leaf for Catfish and the Bottlemen. I hope they get the balance right.