Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Ride

4 out of 5

Label: Capitol Records

Produced by: Dave Sardy

I think I’m supposed to mention how Catfish and the Bottlemen haven’t grown from their debut album, or that they’ve dipped deeper into an admitted Oasis influence to try and ape certain hit singles by that band.

But I haven’t heard Catfish’s debut.  And I like Oasis but it took me a long time to come around to their early albums (I dig their last two the most…), of which Wonderwall-era is the definite template for some of Ride’s tracks, but, eh, I much prefer Catfish’s less smarmy, beat-heavy take on that pop vs. the Britpop overlords.

This isn’t the first time a Sardy production has lured me in for a group whose work I’m apparently not hearing the pinnacle of; it also probably won’t be the first time that my ears don’t care.

Ride is simply a damn fine album, rich with latter-day Sardy sensibilities that I believe guide bands to put their most confident foot forward.  Catfish apparently went on record as wanting to not make the Sophomore album mistake of going too grandiose and instead sticking to what they know, and they couldn’t have chosen a better producer for that.  That’s not to say that Mr. Sardy isn’t capable of capturing eccentricity – the man was Barkmarket, so of course he can – but I think he excels at capturing a group’s core essence and giving it a loud production voice that’s both raw and slick.  And when you’ve got obvious hook-writing skills like Catfish, all is well.  So well that I was tempted toward five stars for this: Literally every track on the disc is catchy, and the lyrics – though mostly tour and lifestyle woes – aren’t just phoned -in rhymes; choruses are logical, imagery drawn.  Lead 7 has a nice, rounded voice and the full rhythm section (again, punched up by our producer) each contribute some nuance.

But some analysis prevailed.  Acoustic track Glasgow is a bit hollow – more used as a sonic counterpoint than anything – and after a slew of badass singles, the disc gets into its mid-section, which is a hooky miasma.  That’s the trick, of course: The boys toss just enough fuel on the fire to convince that the party is still going, but in truth they’ve saved the spark for album bookends (the closer is a stunner) and a couple shining moments along the way.

‘Playing it safe’ doesn’t have to be synonymous with boring.  While Catfish may not have expanded on the pop-rock scope they established on their debut, to my ear they can only have doubled-down and refined it, producing a damned catchy, fantastically produced album that, sure, has some filler, but it ain’t calorie free: this is satisfying stuff.