In a telling statement that accompanied the announcement for The Ride, Catfish and the Bottlemen’s vocalist, Van McCann said “I feel like everybody started thinking too outside the box trying to be arty and different. We wanted to stay inside the box.” As such, The Ride is not much of a deviation from their smash-hit debut The Balcony, except for some added studio sheen. However, it lacks the catchiness and youthful energy that made that album so widely loved, and replaces it with a smoothed over weariness, which grates over the course of 11 tracks.
Lead single Soundcheck is easily the strongest song on the album. It’s beat is enjoyably bouncy, and the stop-start guitars in the pre-chorus are funky and fun. Lyrically, it’s a fairly simple song of youthful love, but there’s some enjoyably specific iconography at work – “I raced through the soundcheck / just to meet you for your fag break”. The other singles, 7 and Twice are less impressive. 7 feels somewhat lacking in energy, with the slow, chugging chorus in particular feeling lacklustre. The drums give the verses a small shot of adrenaline, but none of the melodies stick in the brain the way the best songs on the band’s debut did. Twice is stronger, with lyrics about enjoying living irresponsibly, but the crispness of the guitar recording prevents the chorus from hitting with the impact it’s supposed to. It’s intended to be an explosion of sound after a tense refrain, but it just ends up sounding weak.
After stacking the 3 singles at the front of the album, the rest of the record is passable, if lacking in ambition. Outside, the closing track feels pleasantly melancholic, with smooth, reverbed guitars and mellow drumming. It marks a strong ending (along with the earnest, but enjoyable acoustic number Heathrow), but the entire middle section of the album is somewhat dull. Tracks 4 through 9 aren’t necessarily bad, they just fail to stand out as interesting, and blur together when remembering the album. The one notable track of the section is Glasgow, but it’s notable for the wrong reasons. It’s evidently supposed to be an acoustic confessional, but the false jauntiness, and repetitiveness of the central guitar line gives off the impression of a cheap loop, instead of a proper band recording. Catfish and the Bottlemen have the capacity to write fun, catchy songs, but they are tragically hamstrung by their lack of ambition, and The Ride suffers as a result.