When I hit 30 last summer I contemplated having a midlife crisis. Then I got asked for I.D. buying cigarettes and decided it could wait a few years. I could have kissed the woman on the Tesco fag counter that day. Fast-forward to September 2014, and the release of debut album The Balcony by Llandudno 4-piece Catfish and the Bottlemen had me teetering on the precipice yet again.
The Bottlemen make me feel old. Frontman Van McCann, which, incidentally, is an excellent rock name, sings of his ‘older’ woman – “I can’t believe you’re 26”. When the fuck did 26 become old? Compounding this, The Balcony also makes me deeply nostalgic. Listening to it, I wish I was 18 again, and back at uni, dancing like a fanny to ‘Mr Brightside’ in the utter dive that was the Student Union basement club. Upon closer consideration, I realised that McCann would have been 8 at the time. Which is a bit depressing really.
What’s not depressing, however, is the music. The lads worked their collective arse off over the summer, relentlessly gigging and playing an insane number of festivals, including a blinding set at T in the Park. Their first UK headline tour sold out prior to their debut album release, attesting to the irrefutable fact that this is a band nigh on everyone wants to see perform live.
The Balcony kicks things off with ‘Homesick’, firmly establishing the quiet/loud rock format that the majority of the album utilises. With some cracking guitar hooks, a banging chorus and angst-fuelled lyrics, bemoaning the trials and tribulations of young love, ‘Homesick’ is two and a half minutes of unadulterated, unashamed garage rock. Track 2 ‘Kathleen’ pays heed to the influence of the band’s indie-rock forefathers, in particular fellow countrymen ‘The Manic Street Preachers’. My only small gripe here is that the screeching, sliding guitar and frenzied percussion intro is about ten seconds long. Further developed, this could have been bloody spectacular.
‘Fallout’, begins with McCann confessing “I pissed you off again/ so that you’d leave me alone in Leeds again”. Which I suppose is one way to get a night out with the lads (and also, completely justifiably, dumped by your long-suffering girlfriend). The final 50 seconds are also notewothy, as McCann, apropos to nothing, announces that he was ‘a test-tube baby and that’s why nobody gets him’ (true story apparently). Although the lyrical content is undeniably odd, the upbeat change in musical direction that accompanies this bizarre interjection actually works well, and is an unexpected bonus.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year you will have heard ‘Cocoon’. Probably repeatedly. It’s been virtually impossible to avoid this rowdy, high-energy crowd pleaser, released as a single in time for the summer festival season. There’s nothing particularly new or innovative about the track, it’s just a good old scream-along-at-the-top-of-your-lungs anthem. Combine with copious amounts of beer, and some mates to drunkenly jump about with, and you have the makings of an instant festival classic.
‘Hourglass’ is a standout track, wholly contrasting in style to the rest of the album. An altogether quieter affair, it features a stripped-back acoustic guitar melody, and substantially softer vocals from McCann. What hasn’t altered, however, is the band’s trademark approach to song writing. It doesn’t matter how sweetly you sing it, or how genuine the sentiment is, “I wanna carry all of your children/ And I wanna call them stupid shit” is just daft. In case listeners hadn’t already realised that McCann doesn’t fucking care what anyone else thinks (although after ‘Cocoon’ they really should have) ‘Business’ continues in much the same vein, with the frontman drawling the lyrics “Your friends can fucking do one”. It’s not subtle but it is effective.
I won’t start banging on about ‘26’ again, but, on the whole, the latter part of The Balcony sees a return to full blown rock awesomeness. The record shifts focus to a number of previously unreleased tracks and B-sides which will undoubtedly translate into raucous live performances, sending fans worldwide into a fury of sweaty, beery excitement. Concluding with ‘Tyrants’ nicely opens the door for things to come, and is perhaps indicative of what we can expect from The Bottlemen in the future. Considerably longer than its counterparts, the band take the opportunity to experiment with a different composition; breaking away from the verse, chorus, repeat formula, and instead playing with the lengthier guitar and percussion interludes I was craving earlier. McCann’s vocals finally take something of a backseat and the track is all the better for it.
In thematic and musical terms The Balcony is neither subtle nor complex. Cynics have argued that the debut is both dated and crass. I respectfully disagree. Not dated, but rather a nostalgia driven return to indie-rock at its simplest and most base level. And, yes, it’s sweary and immature at times, but it’s also refreshingly honest and superbly tongue-in-cheek. The beauty of this album lies in its manic energy, and in the band’s refusal to take themselves too seriously. Which really, the critics should have figured out from the hands down pants cover artwork…
The Balcony was released September 15th 2014 through Communion/ Island Records.