The more things change, the more they stay the same. The old English proverb could be applied directly to the case of Catfish and the Bottlemen. While many artists are quick to change their styles at the drop of a hat from album to album, the working-man approach of this Welsh quartet clicks along remarkably well on their third album, called The Balance. If nothing else, Catfish and the Bottlemen know precisely the type of music that suits them, and they are willing to continue out this path, naysayers be damned.
Right down to the trademark black and white artwork, it appears that this band has crafted a trilogy of albums whose songs could very well be re-arranged from one album to the next with minimal side effects to the untrained ear. Whether this was an intentional direction from the band to hone in on their strengths in their sound, rather than create an experimental or quirky LP in their discography, The Balance lives up to its name by striking the proper ledger between their debut (The Balcony) and their sophomore effort (The Ride).
The Balance opens with the band gradually tuning up and getting ready to casually launch into their first song, “Longshot,” much like they were taking the stage at a concert. The track hums along nicely with some great guitar grooves and hooks courtesy of vocalist/guitarist Van McCann. Whereas their debut may have an earnest sense of figuring out their sound, this album came with much higher expectations from a now-established rock radio artist. The band has a new sense of swagger and confidence that bleeds through the speakers and seems primed to be popular amongst longtime fans.
While “Longshot” was the first single released from the LP, the second single and song on the sequencing, “Fluctuate” is a stronger choice of a radio-ready track with staying power. The track itself stands on its own merit by being a great re-introduction to the band that is poised for a great career by churning out consistently good albums. “2all” follows this song with a strong song structure and builds up to a nice chorus.
Other songs such as “Conversation” and “Sidetrack” are stereotypical of the brand of pub rock that Catfish and the Bottlemen have made their name off of. Their main fault, if any, is the criticism that these songs would have fit well on any of their other albums just as well. The main difference on The Balance however, is that the songs feel more energetic and rock with the feeling of a band that has figured out their true direction.
“Encore” lives up to its name as well with being a great show-stopper of a track that begs to play with the speakers at full blast to truly absorb the wall of sound that the band brings forth. “Intermission” allows the listener a rare chance to catch their breath, and it works well as an atmospheric type of track that blends well with the opening of “Mission.” The aforementioned track hits a familiar groove of the earlier songs, yet still has enough intricate moments in it to help it stand out from the collection.
“Coincide” may be one of the weaker songs that the band has written in this latest chapter of their discography, so it serves well as being one of the latter songs on the record. This all builds up to the album closer of “Overlap,” that finally finds the band straying a bit from their established sound. It’s tender opening of carefully struck chords, and down-played vocals lead the way to aggressive pre-chorus that reminded me of the breakdown of Franz Ferdinand’s breakthrough hit, “Take Me Out.”
Whether or not Catfish and the Bottlemen will continue to churn out quality, yet similar, albums remains to be seen. There is nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone, especially when that zone is as comfortable as the band has made for themselves of this trilogy. Personally, I feel the best is yet to come from this band that has a ton of great qualities about itself that most bands would find themselves clamoring for.