It is no surprise, on first hearing this debut album from Glasgow’s four-piece Catholic Action, that band leader and front man Chris McCrory has earned his reputation as a drummer and producer. (Many of the tracks have been released as singles already and one of the better ones didn’t make the cut onto the album).
Apart from the ballads and other slower numbers the songs on the first half of the album are mainly drums (Ryan Clark) and bass guitar (Jamie Dubber) –influenced. But McCrory learned his trade as a guitarist first. So he can see his trade from the perspective of both the goalkeeper and the main striker and that is evident on an album which at times has distinct shades of fellow Glaswegians Franz Ferdinand about it. Hardly surprising too, when you realise it was getting on for 14 years ago that they released their debut album and many contemporary aspiring Clydeside musicians there grew up with it, and them.
Many of the indie-pop/rock tracks here are short and to the point, sometimes upbeat and danceable but with terse, downbeat lyrics. The Dream Ticket if you can do it and for the most part they do.
Unfortunately, two of the ten tracks were not UK-available on the preview playlist. But the one and a half minute second track ‘Propaganda’, titled in deference to an all-night indie club session and sounding like a compacted one, sets the scene for much of the rest of the album. Opening with a five-second drum thrashing followed by a bass solo of similar length, it morphs into pure indie-pop as McCrory intones repeatedly “it’s music to tick boxes”.
What is he saying? Is he criticising his own band or the musical milieu it operates in, as Sløtface’s Haley Shea did recently, albeit more forcibly (“Patti Smith would never put up with this shit”)?
The bass is back in ‘Say Nothing’, which has a New Wave feel to it, while ‘The Shallows’ is quite different, a reflective ballad that is reminiscent of the contemplative images created in Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and with an apposite guitar break that proves they don’t have to be fast or complex. The lyrics are notably evocative. “…a product of the province and the pills you pop permanently…”; “Put your faith in a pop song and grow your hair”.
‘New Year’ is another short track, with a powerful drum-beat that is almost Adam and the Ants- or T-Rex like (think ‘Stand and Deliver’ or ‘Hot Love’) and an equally strong melody line. The bridge is a delightful guitar chorus. The most pop-like track and out of kilter with the rest of the album though that is no bad thing.
‘Doing well’ was written, apparently, at a time when Chris McCrory was anything but. A straightforward 4/4 dance floor thrash it proves that ironic optimism is often the best medicine, though the fade-out is disappointing and unconvincing.
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‘The Real World’ is a sort of 1960’s throwback with a sharp line in social comment (including the lines “where life is a running joke” and “Keeping up with the Joneses”, and more references to popping pills, that would have done justice to St Vincent’s new album Masseduction. Its outro is a splendid guitar break, the first opportunity on the album for Andrew Macpherson to shine.
Penultimate track ‘Childhood Home’ is another slow burner, which builds into a minor league anthem. A lament with genuine pathos it features an odd guitar-focused middle eight that could have come straight out of Bert Weedon’s guitar manual ‘Play in a Day.’
‘In Memory Of ‘ ends with ‘Stars and Stripes’. Fearful that it might be yet another anti-Trump rant it is gratifying to discover it doesn’t appear to be; possibly it could reference American interventionism. That said, sadly this rather tired and overlong song doesn’t offer very much to keep your attention until it perks up a bit in the final quarter, culminating in a 10-second guitar reverb at the end that turns out to be the highlight.
Franz Ferdinand is a Mercury Prize-winning, Grammy-nominated band. Such accolades are probably some way in the future yet for Catholic Action but with this debut effort they have put down a firm marker for the future. While it isn’t perfect by any means there is plenty here on this album to suggest there is more, and better, to come.
In Memory Of was released on 20 October 2017 on Modern Sky UK. The full track list is as follows…
- ‘Say Nothing’
- ‘Black and White’
- ‘The Shallows’
- ‘New Year’
- ‘Doing Well’
- ‘The Real World’
- ‘Childhood Home’
- ‘Stars and Stripes’