Ever since John Lennon proclaimed The Beatles to be “more popular than Jesus,” the United Kingdom has supplied rock ’n’ roll with a succession of stars whose brashness is as bold as their talent.
In the late ’80s, barely known wunderkind Lee Mavers burned through three producers during the recording of The La’s debut, while Shaun Ryder and the Happy Mondays reveled in decadence of royal proportions. The following decade Noel Gallagher (who once claimed to be the reincarnation of Lennon) became the most outspoken rock star in the world as Oasis unleashed a string of brilliant tunes. Since the turn of the century, Pete Doherty of The Libertines and even The Kooks’ Luke Pritchard have become known for unleashing varying degrees of cockiness.
Catfish and the Bottlemen, whom the tastemakers at the NME recently hailed as the “biggest new band in the country,” are quickly shaping up to be the next great group to lay claim to this proud British tradition. They’ve only released two albums, including the new The Ride, but the Wales-bred foursome already ooze a self-confidence that teeters on the edge of arrogance.It’s a quality especially potent in photographs of singer, guitarist and songwriter Ryan Evan “Van” McCann. He’s ultra-cool, and he knows it, defiantly staring down the camera’s gaze with his perfect hair, perfect shades, perfect leather jacket, perfect everything. The precocious talent also has mandatory brazenness down cold. After the band’s recent Twitter scuffle with One Direction, McCann told British tabloid The Sun that in regard to the boy band, “We’re here to fuck you lot off.”
The band certainly aren’t shy about their rock star aspirations. As McCann explained to Teen Vogue’s Alexandra Thurmond, “We want to be a rock band the way our favorite bands were — The Doors and The Beatles, all these bands, The Strokes.”
Thus far, they’ve managed to transform their lofty aspirations into reality. The Balcony, released last year, made a swift climb to No. 10 on the U.K. Albums Chart — impressive for a debut. Its success garnered them appearances at Glastonbury and Reading festivals, as well as a string of accolades, including British Breakthrough Act at this year’s Brit Awards. The up-and-comers can even boast of having celebrity fans on their guest lists. Sir Ewan McGregor digs them so much he agreed to star in the video for their second single, “Hourglass.”
But even if you hadn’t read anything about the band and only knew them from stumbling across a video (“Soundcheck” is another keeper) or a featured track somewhere on the Internet, you would be able recognize their chutzpah in a heartbeat. On The Balcony and The Ride, McCann, guitarist Johnny “Bondy” Bond, bassist Benjamin “Benji” Blakeway and drummer Robert “Bob” Hall sound like a outfit that knows precisely what they want and how to go about achieving it.
In a relatively short amount of time (the group’s first trip into the studio was in 2009 while they were in their teens), they’ve cultivated a classic brand of British guitar rock overlaid with modern indie moves. They look back without ever slipping into nostalgia and push ahead without ever turning their backs on their roots. On the cuts “7” and “Kathleen” the quartet nail the sweeping atmospherics and endearing choruses popular among 21st century alt rockers and they also unload chunky guitar stabs whose roots can be traced back through Oasis and The Jam and ultimately to The Who, whose 1964 landmark “I Can’t Explain” established the basic template for the Brit rock sound.
Thanks in large part to Dave Sardy (whose previous production work with the likes of Oasis and Wolfmother made him a logical choice) those guitars are even chunkier on The Ride. Achieving a sound that is big, direct and simple, he and the band were careful not to add anything to the songs that couldn’t be reproduced in concert. The result is a tightly sculpted set of tunes bursting with crashing riffs, high-energy rhythms and McCann’s profanity-laced meditations on sex and romance, cigs and gigs, booze and hangovers.
McCann knows the band has made a quintessential Brit rock album in The Ride. “I think a little bomb will go off in the music industry and people will go ‘Who’s making all that racket?’,” he told the NME this month. “It’s miles better than the last album. The band’s 10 times better, the crew’s 10 times better and we’re all 10 times better looking.”
With the United Kingdom already conquered, it’s clear that Catfish and the Bottlemen are now gunning for the rest of the planet.