Review – “The Balance” by Catfish and the Bottlemen

In an era when many bands of their ilk have recently underwent reinvention (Artic Monkeys, The 1975, even You Me At Six), it’s refreshing to a see a band sticking to its roots, confident in their sound.

The staple Tim Lahan artwork familiar to Catfish fans is back again. Yup, it’s business as usual.

The Balance, Catfish and the Bottlemen’s third record, contains much the same that fans loved and naysayers loathed as the band’s first two efforts. As such, The Balance probably won’t win over many new fans, but judging by the backlash to records like Tranquility Base: Hotel and Casino, maybe it’s wise that Catfish have played it safe and avoided the seemingly inevitably alienation that comes with experiment.

That’s not to say The Balance is too similar to not be an essential listen for lovers of the band’s previous releases. The pop hooks, as you’d expect, are aplenty, but they tend to be sandwiched by meatier, rockier verses this time around.

‘Fluctuate’, by far the band’s heaviest song since the false rock promise of ‘Kathleen’, is the record’s killer app with its danceably rolling verses and biting, stadium-ready chorus – but there are many more stand-out tracks offered here than on previous outing The Ride.

‘2all’ may be the band’s first true lighters-in-the-air Oasis-esque singalong, but the record really flexes its muscle in the middle with the back-to-back juggernaut of ‘Encore’ and the self-aware ‘Basically’ (which, as the lyrics suggest, is “slightly reminiscent of an old song” – no prizes for guessing which).

As much of an evolution The Balance provides, one can only hope that this serves as the last frame of a triptych before the band undergoes something of a revolution

More Favourite Worst Nightmare than Humbug, The Balance advances the sound of the band’s first two (virtually indistinguishable) records with a stride of maturity, and an increased confidence which has paved the way for some genuine musical complexities, notably in gems ‘Mission’ and the spectacular ‘Overlap’. Cutting (spoiler alert!) a record’s final song before it really has a chance to finish is not a clever or particularly pleasant trick (albeit such a Catfish thing to do, one step further than the trick they pulled with ‘Outside’), but it works in foregoing a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, urging the listener to press play all over again.

As much of an evolution The Balance provides, one can only hope that this serves as the last frame of a triptych before the band undergoes something of a revolution. The record bursts with bangers but there’s only so many times Catfish can present songs in similar wrappings, and beyond the introduction of a decently-executed (though far from essential) ‘Intermission’ and a marginally heavier tone, a tad more experimentation would not go amiss. That said, no song feels truly extraneous, and the fact that its worst song (‘Conversation’, for those who were wondering – sorry Cameron!) packs more of a punch than any other rock singles released this year speaks volumes.

Is The Balance better than The Balcony? Not quite. But is it better than most so-called ‘indie rock’ records released by British bands since Catfish stormed on stage with their debut in 2014? You’ll have to listen yourself to find out, but the balance has undoubtedly been tipped firmly in the Bottlemen’s favour. Just give us something a bit different next time, eh boys?

Matteo Everett

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