May Album Review – Catfish, Lonely the Brave, Band of Skulls and Sturgill Simpson

The theme this month is very much rock, with one exception. Let’s start with Catfish and the Bottlemen. It’s long time since we saw a band so reviled by the serious music critics – and growing so quickly on the back of love from a very large number of fans and consumers. Their second album, Ride, has gone straight to number 1 in the UK album charts, and it’s only two years (May 2014) since we saw them in the 150 capacity Boileroom at Guildford (not sure it was even sold out); they have just announced a stadium tour.

The critics hate it because it is basic indie-rock, with simple stories about girls, going to gigs and getting drunk. Every song has a one-word title; “Glasgow” is about meeting a girl in … Glasgow. (That is a rare acoustic number, to be fair). “Emily” is about a girl called Emily…  and cigarettes. Lyrically, it’s not exactly Dylan. Musically, Oasis and Kings of Leon are reference points, but, as we said when the first album came out, you can forgive a lot given the energy, strong tunes and the sheer old-fashioned joy of being young and in a rock band that Catfish exude. You can imagine the kids in their thousands at festivals singing along to tracks like 7 and Red this summer; Catfish may not be around for too long but we’re enjoying it while it lasts! 8/10

 

Band of Skulls are onto their fourth album with By Default. The three-piece band from Southampton have been overshadowed somewhat by Royal Blood – the heavy but tuneful blues rock of BoS has taken them to the second division of rock bands whereas Royal Blood shot straight into the stratosphere with their debut. But Band of Skulls have always had a good amount of variation on their albums, more than was evident on Royal Blood’s debut, and the same is true here, from the T. Rex sound of Back of Beyond, the laid back “soul” sound of Something and the QOTSA-like Erounds. I’m not sure the tunes are consistently as strong as previous albums, and maybe there is a bit of energy loss in the middle of the album. (Incidentally, Drowned in Sound website seemed to be taking it a bit far to accuse the band of “misogyny” and give a 3/10 mark because of a few fairly standard rock lyrics). I would like to live with this a bit longer but it sounds like a 7/10 at the moment.

Lonely the Brave are from Cambridge, not exactly a powerhouse of rock music, but Things Will Matter, their second album, is a serious rock release. “Serious” sums up the strength and weakness here. On the positive side, starting with a fairly slow and dark but melodic song, Wait in the Car, is brave and this is uncompromising, serious, well-played and heartfelt music. That is followed by Black Mire, which sounds like a stadium or festival main stage classic already.

On the other hand, you do long for a bit more light and shade by the time we’re half way through. David Jakes’ excellent voice is reminiscent of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and there are definite nods to that heavy / grunge tradition, but compared to Nothing but Thieves, another UK band in a pretty similar genre, both the vocals and the songs lack a bit of variation. But a strong rock collection and a 7.5/10 I think.

Now something a bit different, although “rock” is certainly present in A Sailor’s Guide To Earth by Sturgill Simpson - along with country, blues, soul, folk … He is considered to be a country artist in the US but really this is a long way from Dolly Parton. At times it sounds like pretty heavy blues-rock, other songs are simply excellent “popular” songs in the broadest sense. He is pretty unique artist, and this is virtually a concept album about being away from home, and includes a country ballad version of Nirvana’s In Bloom (pretty damn good it is too – see below). Another one I would like to live with for longer but it is going to be around the 8/10 level.

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