You know how the first Strokes album is a quite literally life changing exponent of indie music, crucial to the point in human history we arrive at here today. And then the second album is really, really good, in spite of a bit of a slip in quality. And the one after that is good, but again, a big slip in quality. And for the rest of their records (bar arguably the slightly challenging Comedown Machine) they follow a downwards trajectory where the band seemed to actively regress against developing their sound in any way, shape or form. OK...
So I want you to imagine The Strokes went on for another 30 years, actively refusing to change their sound; imagine the 2047 release Angles Part 8. That is what the new song by Welsh indie landfillers Catfish and the Bottlemen sound like on their latest effort Soundcheck. It's their first release since their commercially acclaimed Balcony debut, which I personally thought was the worst thing I'd heard since the news of my rabbit Bobo's death when I was aged 8. On Soundcheck, Catfish do nothing to move this ferociously unoriginal sound on from their first record, so this is a second tier Britpop throwback throwback, ticking the boxes on the landfill indie cliche checklist chart comprehensively.
Soundcheck is a first person heteronormative love song that offers little in the way of deeper meaning. Van McCann sneers "I want you" at the end of each verse, pandering to cliches in a way that I can only hope to god is self aware. Arguably, Catfish's music is supposed to be fun indie rock you can dance to, so maybe it's unfair to search for wider meaning in the lyrics, but when those lyrics are literally "I don't feel the same way that I did/In fact that's a lie I still want you" you can't help but physically recoil at the infantile simplicity of it all.
And the thing is, this wouldn't be a massive issue if the song was musically rich and challenging, or bright and fun, but it just doesn't really get going as a simple indie guitar song. Comparing it to a bad Strokes song seems too easy, but this honestly couldn't be an Angles album track unless Van McCann took his lyrical focus off of shaggin' biiirds [sic] for one split second. The guitar parts sound like a thrown away Cast demo, the melodies sound tired and really fail to evoke any emotions, and there is a godawful middle 8 that just builds and builds and builds, before exploding into absolutely nothing at all. I don't want to finish this paragraph with the line "Is this what sex with Catfish and't Bottlemen is like?", because although I thought about it, it's probably for the best to not think about that kinda thing; so I'll finish the paragraph with a link to a documentary Julian Cope did on Neolithic Britain instead.
Catfish and the Bottlemen are a really problematic band for me, and on this song they've upped their game to a level of cringiness I only knew was possible after watching that episode of the Simpsons where Lisa enters a variant of the X factor. The band talk about their music as if they were the shit, rather than just shit. "We kept calling it 'The One'... I thought 'we've wrote a big one here' and I couldn't stop shaking for a couple of days," McCann said in a recent interview with Radio 1. Really Evan? Shaking after writing this?! Crikey. The band would tell you that this was "the headliner" compared to "the soundcheck" that was the last record, but really this is a song with about as many distinguishing characteristics and about as much alteritous identity as the players on a League Two team on FIFA 08.
The band want you to think they're exactly what you need, with their cocky lad-rock swagger, that they're like you and all, but the truth is that Catfish and the Bottlemen in the present day are the U2 of their generation. Look at their social media; it's the product of a well-oiled major label PR plan. Although they're packaged to seem like normal proper lads you'd meet spontaneously down Spoons drinking normal proper lager, this act is about as convincing as Michael Gove pretending to be a member of the human race. Sure, Catfish were just like you and me, and they worked hard to get to a position where a major label took command of their career, so you can't begrudge them for that; but seriously - waiting 2 years to tour an album and release no new songs despite admitting you've got several albums of material you're sat on, announcing shows for almost a year in the future, etc - this isn't how a band that are as down to earth as Catfish want you to think they are should act, surely?
Anyway; back to Soundcheck. This song is so average that it offends me. I'd be less offended if it was truly terrible, but it's just so in your face with its banality. Catfish and the Bottlemen are a four piece of straight white males, no different to every other four piece of straight white males that have slotted effortlessly into a soulless major label trying to convince the world that they're normal lads just like you. Soundcheck is a symptom of this, with its lyrics about the pursuit of love (or maybe just sex), generic guitar strums and vocals that epitomise a small town Welsh kid trying to be Julian Casablancas. And the thing I find funniest about this whole thing is that it left the NME describing McCann as a "repentant rock’n’roll sex lizard". which really sums it up. If those guys love what you're doing (even though by their own admission this means it's not quite as 'godlike genius' as Coldplay's vanilla sonic war crimes), if those guys think you're real proper rock 'n' roll, maybe it's time to drop out and make your way sweeping the streets instead. But hey, if he really is a "repentent sex lizard," those cum sarnies should taste great, and at £5/litre, their 'cock snot' should be a steal.
I guess with this review, I probably sound like a stuck up reviewer that is physically incapable of having fun, but the truth is that I'm the opposite and Catfish are just a band whose appeal I really don't get. They're banal, they're generic, they don't seem to have any energy on record and they just epitomise landfill lad rock in a way that even Razorlight would need a Milwall away shirt to match. Even Kasabian and Oasis have bangers, and you can appreciate that kinda thing in the genre, but Catfish lack bangers, lack any areas of interest and lack anything that really sets them out from every other generic indie band that I don't give a second chance to after a first listen. As I'm sure you've gauged from this review, I don't think Soundcheck is AWFUL, but it occupies a sphere of mundane mediocrity that is much more painful to listen to than anything that is just plain bad. People are offended by different things - banality, especially within art, offends me - and I think Soundcheck would have been less actively offensive to me if it was just a sound collage of Oswald Mosley speeches, BNP chants and tweets of the 'Meninist' twitter account read out by Danny Dyer mixed together with some Eric Clapton guitar noodling.
If this is what Catfish and the Bottlemen's second album is going to be full of, I might have to spend some time coming up with some new hyperboles with reference to such phrases as 'unoriginal', 'lad culture' and 'banal', but for now we can only hope that we can wander through life experiencing as little of this kind of thing as possible and that the second Catfish album isn't fucking everywhere in the same way the first one was, although that doesn't seem too likely. If you're ever feeling too low about the state of guitar music, pry yourself away from all of this and remember - The Fat White Family exist, Sauna Youth are a thing, Hookworms make music, Skinny Girl Diet are contemporaneously existing with your good self and Pond are sure to have some new music for us in the near future. It's not like everything is this bleak, but when Catfish and the Bottlemen and Soundcheck rise to the top of the pile it can be easy to think that.
(written by calum cashin)