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Did Catfish and the Bottlemen peak at The Balcony?

With the news of Catfish and the Bottlemen’s third album, The Balance, coming  in late April, reaction has been mixed. From the early success of their debut album, The Balcony, they’ve split opinion. Recently proven by Shame’s tweets about them, it’s not just fans opinions that are divided. Are they victims of their own success?

Shame, another UK based band, leaning into punk than indie, poked fun at Catfish and the Bottlemen in a series of tweets, saying that the first letter of each song title on The Balance spells out ‘shit band’ among other jibes. It was all in the nature of a laugh, no serious beef.

Twitter got a bit out of hand over the matter though, calling out the band and saying that such behaviour is unfair and not in the spirit of the indie community, as if Van McCann wasn’t out there trying to beef Louis Tomlinson over a jacuzzi a couple of years ago. 

In 2014, Catfish and the Bottlemen were THE band everyone was talking about. Singles like ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Cocoon’ dominated the airwaves whilst the band were dominating festival season. Their music resonated, and still does resonate, with teens up and down the country. Was it ever possible for the band to replicate the success of The Balcony?

Summer 2014 was like this summer just gone, but instead of Kieran Trippier’s right foot, it was The Balcony that saved the summer. Equally like Kieran Trippier’s right foot, by the end of the summer the charm had begun to wear off. Timing was undoubtedly crucial in the success of Catfish and the Bottlemen, let’s not forget they’d been singing the same 10 songs for over three years before anyone really began to pay them any attention.

The Balcony sounded like new age Britpop, informed by Catfish’s 90s and 00s elders and their experience in young adulthood. After all, the famous line goes that Van McCann wrote ‘Tyrants’ aged 14. This view of young adulthood Catfish portrayed was spot on, it was the difficulties of love, friendship and adulthood, all packaged together in a less wanky way than The 1975 had done it nine months earlier on their debut. The charm of Catfish and the Bottlemen is that they aren’t necessarily ‘cool’ as The 1975 are, there’s space for cringe inducing memories that plague anyone’s teenage years.

So what went wrong from there? After The Balcony it took a surprisingly long time, for a band that supposedly had thousands of songs banked up, for The Ride to come out. When the album finally dropped, the majority of the songs sound like B-sides to The Balcony. If it took McCann five years and a thousand songs to create The Balcony, how long would it take him to create a worthy follow up? 

Catfish and the Bottlemen were so keen to replicate the success of their debut that they carried it’s entire style into their sophomore. The artwork, aesthetic, the one word song titles, sixth song is acoustic and eleventh ends in a roaring instrumental that cuts a few seconds early. Even using a singular, unnecessarily long word per album (see acquiesce, obfuscate and fluctuate). 

Even if The Ride had been of the same quality as The Balcony, the underlying problem is that there’s no growth. The songwriting is no better than when McCann was eighteen. No one wants songs about life in your early twenties, written with the ability of a teenager. 

The early success of Catfish and the Bottlemen meant that they never saw a reason to grow up. The argument everyone uses for why The Ride was so similar to it’s older brother is that if it’s not broke don’t fix it, but maybe it is broke. Van McCann singlehandedly explained what it’s like to be young, dumb and in love in the current UK climate on The Balcony, something that no one in the indie circuit had done since Arctic Monkey’s debut in 2006. 

The success of Catfish’s debut may have lead the band into disillusionment of their own ability and stunted lyrical growth. There’s genuinely heartfelt and tender moments on The Ride, namely on ‘Heathrow’ but it’s obvious from the outset that Van McCann has not grown up since he was writing ‘Kathleen’. He stills sees life through the same eyes that saw ‘Business’ and living so detached from the reality that won’t change any time soon.

Van McCann almost writes about a life that isn’t real. For a band that want so much to be an everyman band, they’re out of touch with normal life. McCann writes about the life he imagines he’d have had if the band hadn’t worked out, realistically he’s been in the band his entire adult life, what does he know about the Mondays he’s rung in sick as ‘Twice’ would suggest?

Looking forwards to The Balance, to say the whole thing is due to be much of the same is unfair, only tghree songs are out at the time of writing. None of the three do much to deter the fear of yet another Balcony incoming next month. They recycle the same themes again.

Whilst Alex Turner may have been writing about being turfed out of clubs round Sheffield and hiding in bushes from police in 2006, it’s safe to say that if he was still writing about Sheffield bouncers in 2014’s AM then Arctic Monkeys would still be kicking around the midlands for failing to evolve. 

The same rule applies to Catfish and the Bottlemen, five songs from The Ride still reference being drunk and/or hungover, this rises to nine if you include smoking/drug references. It’s boring. Call me a drag if you like but by the time you’re 23 there should be more to life than your partner and going out. It’s taking a teenager’s values and trying to inject them into an adult’s life, it doesn’t work.

The majority of Catfish and the Bottlemen’s fans are still teenagers and there’s a reason. Van McCann writes about adulthood the way you picture it when you’re a teenager. Fans grow out of the band when they experience adulthood for themselves and realise this view doesn’t align with their own anymore. 

The youthful energy is gone and what remains is the shell of it, hollow and insincere. As time goes on I can’t help but wonder if this is like when pop punk bands talk about leaving deadbeat towns despite the fact they’re nearly thirty and living in a swanky four bed LA villa, or how The Kooks still talk about young love at the big age of 33 to pay off the mortgage on Luke Pritchard’s Kensington townhouse.

Looking back at Arctic Monkeys and The Kooks, there’s a reason that Arctic Monkeys have headlined Glastonbury twice yet The Kooks only sold out Ally Pally on their 10th anniversary tour.

By maturing as the band have grown up, the likes of Foals and Two Door Cinema Club have been able to keep their original fan base interested whilst also bringing in new listeners. The Kooks for example, haven’t been able to cultivate a fanbase that sticks with them because their music never grew up.

Are Catfish and the Bottlemen victims of their own success? Very probably. Van McCann managed to bottle up teenage angst in a way that didn’t alienate outsiders like The 1975’s debut did for some. Unfortunately, bottling teenage angst is all Catfish do particularly well and so Van McCann is doomed to try and write The Balcony part 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, searching for the heights Catfish and the Bottlemen reached so early with their debut whilst growing further and further from his youth.

Fingers crossed the title lives up to the hype and they find some sort of balance on their third album, The Balance. Listen to Catfish and the Bottlemen right here and see for yourself if you agree.

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