Welsh indie rockers Catfish and the Bottlemen blazed a trail on the scene in the 2010s. With a set list of nut-and-bolts songs to match the band’s no-frills image, they amassed a significant following, working crowds on the festival circuit. Now, with the band three albums into their career, we take a look at the top 10 Catfish and the Bottlemen songs.
# 10 – Rango
The second single from the band’s esteemed debut album, The Balcony, “Rango” remains a fan-favorite. The tune sees singer – and primary creative force – Van McCann lamenting what would become a recurring theme in his songwriting, that being his struggles to achieve harmony with members of the opposite sex.
The tune’s roots predate the band’s success, and concern an ex-girlfriend of McCann’s, Abby. This character is portrayed as an antagonist prone to manipulation, a trait exacerbated by an additional layer of context in the taletelling nature of the area in which the pair reside. It is said that the song did manage to capture the attention of the girl in question once Catfish and the Bottlemen achieved success. By this point though, the singer was already well past the situation.
Driven forward by McCann’s propulsive rhythm guitar, “Rango” goes far in establishing the formula to which Catfish and the Bottlemen would proudly adhere going forward.
# 9 – Postpone
Musically, Catfish and the Bottlemen have made clear that never have they been attempting to reinvent the wheel. Taking issue with musicians who take their own artistry too seriously, McCann has asserted that the band’s intention was to move in the opposite direction. When promoting their second album, the singer proclaimed,
“I feel like everybody started thinking too outside the box trying to be arty and different. We wanted to stay inside the box.”
Indeed, with their sophomore effort, 2016’s The Ride, the band delivered a tight project very much in line with their debut. The group established a sound with their first record, and the allegiance to that sound is a hill on which they are willing to die. Much in the same way as the Ramones, the consistency of Catfish’s sound draws interest to the subtle variations that crop up, and these nuances become the distinguishing factors among a catalog of tunes which, to those unfamiliar, could all be perceived as sounding too similar.
“Postpone” is an excellent example of how slight variation can send a tune in an entirely different direction. From a songwriting perspective, the classic elements of the band are all here. Rhythmically, however, drummer Bob Hall, who recently announced his departure from the group, provides a push and pull dynamic which keeps the track agile. What is initially a driving pulse of a beat shifts to a galloping snare line that drags ever so slightly through the bridge, before launching into a four-on-the-floor attack in the song’s chorus.
# 8 – Fallout
One of the many standouts from The Balcony, “Fallout” details the up-and-down nature of a particular relationship of McCann’s. The hopeful melodic sensibilities of the verses and bridge are contrasted by the chorus, which seems to fall into darker territory. This reinforces the unpredictable nature of the relationship being depicted.
McCann weaves the tale of a significant other he has intentionally set off and whose calls he has been avoiding. This character – presumedly, Mary – would also set fire to his wardrobe. The outro section sees the singer getting reflective, ultimately attributing the disconnect in communication between himself and people around him to his own unconventional origins as a “test tube baby.”
# 7 – Basically
The third album from Catfish and the Bottlemen, The Balance, predictably stays true to their signature sound, and continues to uphold the band’s affinity for one-word song titles. The formula is marginally shaken up in increments, however. “Basically” builds around the rhythm section. But rather than coasting on the groove as tracks have done in the past, this number has a stutter-step feel, with the snare falling on the upbeat in every second measure. The feel is retained into the bridge, which goes into half-time, but uses only shells of measures with just the snare and bass drum being actively utilized. The drums are very much responsible for the personality of this one, and the track creates the sensation of being jerked around without ever sacrificing its groove.
# 6 – Outside
“Outside” is the closing track of The Ride, and features the lyric from which the album takes its name. The tune comes in almost somberly, featuring muted, single-note passages that are given plenty of space to breathe atop the rhythm tracks which makes their entrance soon after. The chorus brings in a wall of sound, which appears fascinatingly misshapen in its first run due to the complete lack of drums and a jangling acoustic guitar given a prominent spot in the mix. This adequately accentuates the contradicting feelings of the accompanying lyrics,
“There’s no-one in the life I knew that got through to me. But when you talk about nothing, you tend to lose me.”
The post-chorus is all business, with shouted vocals over slamming snares and sinister arpeggios, and acts as a highly effective close to the record in its final passage.
# 5 – Cocoon
The Balcony features very little in the way of misses, and some would argue that it never falters throughout its 11 tracks. The album’s third track, “Cocoon,” is classic Catfish. It comes in the same way it goes out, with a driving, full-band build-up which drops out in the final measure. The song itself implements a variation on the Bo Diddley beat with its floating tom groove. A scorching, simplistic solo brings the track to its middle-eight section, which utilizes guitar leads layered into backing vocals, which continue into the final chorus.
Despite its debaucherous undercurrent, there’s a sweetness and downright romanticism to the overarching message of “Cocoon.” The chorus sees McCann resolvedly announcing the irrelevance of those attempting to interfere in the relationship between himself and the partner to whom the lyrics are directed. Despite the chatter from outside parties, the singer reiterates his devotion, declaring, “I’d rather go blind than let you down.”
# 4 – 7
The opener to the second Catfish and the Bottlemen album leans on the classic rock and roll notion of missing someone while on the road. Like all the band’s albums, The Ride features inserts of McCann’s handwritten lyrics. Upon close inspection of this tune’s lyrics, one can spot the name “Alana” scratched out and replaced with “again that,” in the verse line, “promised again that I would call her.” This lyric is believed to be a reference to Alana Haim, the youngest of the Haim sisters, with whom McCann was believed to be involved.
Musically, the track makes its entrance by way of fade-in, riding a steady bass-and-drums groove into the first verse, pushed faithfully forward by bassist Benji Blakeway, before the guitars make their way into the mix piece by piece. Half-time bridge and chorus sections contrast the driving beat, which carries the track through its verse sections. The band released a stripped-back version of the song in 2017, featuring acoustic guitars by McCann and lead guitarist Johnny Bond as the track’s sole instrumentation.
# 3 – Homesick
The tune that introduced many fans to the moody, frenetic rock dynamic of Catfish and the Bottlemen, “Homesick” kicks off The Balcony in initially understated fashion. A subtle synth eases the listener in, before McCann’s vocals and finger-picked guitar drop in simultaneously. Rimshots and restrained bass bridge the brief gap between the intro itself and the first chorus, which hits the listener like a ton of bricks. McCann tells of intoxicated phone calls and relationship conflict in this blistering number which makes an initial statement befitting of the band behind it.
# 2 – Overlap
The closing number of the band’s most recent record, The Balance, is a sonic outlier in this list, and frankly, in the band’s discography as a whole. “Overlap” sees Catfish taking some uncharacteristic stylistic chances, which pay off in the form of some additional color being injected into their usual aesthetic. McCann’s rhythm guitar is borderline-funky here, but rests comfortably on the backbeat, not forcing the issue too intently.
The vocals are forlorn in tone, and they almost seem to be looking for something to latch onto for hope. The singer seems to find this hope within himself at the 37 second mark, when the rhythm shifts into jittery, consistent chord strikes that sound boxy in their production. McCann is operating solo up to this point, and the rest of the band join in at around 46 seconds into the track. The tempo picks up ever so slightly as the chorus groove bounces along. Coming out of the first chorus, the rhythm falls into a driving, standard groove not unlike those heard on “7” and “Basically,” before switching out again for subsequent sections.
A distinguishing element of The Balance is the rhythmic choices made throughout the record, with many tracks veering in and out of different time signatures and making frequent use of offbeat emphasis. These choices can assumedly be traced to drummer Bob Hall, and the insistence on deviation from the established sound could very well have been an indicator of a disillusionment with the formula. The pessimistic listener can hear what may have very well been foreshadowing of the musician’s eventual departure from the group.
# 1 – Tyrants
“Tyrants” is a moment in the Catfish discography where the notoriously direct band begins to reach for something resembling the abstract. The lead-up verses feature the characteristic autobiographical musings of frontman Van McCann. Blurry nights in a fast life of fluctuating emotions surrounding surface encounters of varying implications constitute the makeup of this dynamic rocker.
But it is in the tracks final sections it truly transcends, where the sole lyric is the repeated mantra from which the song takes its title:
“Tyrants help build us, they won’t mind throwin’ us away.”
The lyric speaks to the carelessness with which those in positions of power so frequently abuse said power. Essentially, be it a narcissistic partner or a corporate entity, those who stand to gain something from another person are generally all too happy to offer their support. It’s when the benefit dwindles that true colors are often shown, revealing the disposable perspective in which the powerful habitually hold their less fortunate counterparts.
McCann’s rhythm guitar brings the track in slowly before the full band enters the fray, pulsating beneath the anxious chords. The floor tom begins rolling in anticipation before the floor of the track itself drops out, giving a taste of what’s to come in the final half.
It is no coincidence that the closing tracks from each of the band’s three albums made this list. The group knows how to end on a powerful note. This is why, along with having the distinction of closing out The Balcony, “Tyrants” was also the closing song in the band’s live set for a number of years.
With its layered guitars and punchy rhythmic accents, the velocity of the closer threatens to knock a hole in the wall of whichever venue it is being executed. Longing, wordless harmony vocals accentuate the emotional impact of the melody. The track cuts abruptly, the ensuing silence sounding almost as loud as the jam, by contrast. Live versions of the song take this conclusion one step further with a false finish, breaking back through the aforementioned silence in perfect tandem to rattle the stage for just a few moments more.
Prior to the departure of drummer Bob Hall, rumors had been circulating which predicted the split of Catfish and the Bottlemen. Fortunately – at the time of writing – there appear to be no plans for the band to dissolve, although there also has yet to be an announcement indicating a replacement drummer. But with nearly three years having passed since the release of The Balance, one can only hope that McCann and company have been hard at work on a follow-up album for the band’s passionate fanbase to sink their teeth into.
Top 10 Catfish And The Bottlemen Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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