During a recent interview with NME, Catfish and the Bottlemen frontman Van McCann discussed the band’s songwriting process without so much as a hint of irony, saying, “When we write songs, I just think, ‘Are 60,000 people going to want to sing this back to me? If not, I’m getting rid of it.” Such a statement is ambitious coming from any new band, especially one still playing small clubs across the U.S. But this band is nothing if not ambitious, and the album’s production, guitar solos, and choruses are nothing if not stadium-sized.
The Balcony comes out swinging, lobbing one potential rock radio-friendly superhit after another. Producer Jim Abbiss (whose credits include Adele and Arctic Monkeys) layers massive guitar over huge beats, saving center stage for McCann’s bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold voice. That voice shines on “Kathleen”, the best Warped Tour anthem come several years too late. “Cocoon” – the video for which has racked up over 1.25 million views on YouTube – captures the rough-edged euphoria of young love. “Fallout” and “Pacifier” roll out eager choruses that demand attention. Five tracks in and you’re exhausted.
Fortunately Catfish and the Bottlemen are self-aware. The band deploys the semi-acoustic “Hourglass” smack dab in the middle of the record. The listener halftime strategy works and features some of McCann’s best lyrics – “I’ve been craving your calls like a soldier’s wife” rings especially poignant.
Less fortunate is how quickly McCann ditches the lyrical sincerity as the album plunges back into bold alt rock jams, but this time it’s different. The band’s cocksure attitude turns realistic – or at least not unfounded – during the second half. “Business” and “Rango” are the best basslines on the album. Bruising drums and guitars resembling sirens result in fireworks on “26”. Album closer “Tyrants” combines the mood of a Spaghetti Western with a steady crescendo to create a dynamic finale. It’s the best song on The Balcony. Ironically, it’s also the longest and least tailored for airplay.
Grandiose prediction alert: this band will probably be huge. While far from perfect, The Balcony is decent, bold and unashamed. It is the band’s Madison Square Garden album, never mind that they haven’t graduated from the Bowery Ballroom. Whether you like their sound or not, you can’t help but applaud the ambition.