Catholic Action – Celebrated by Strangers
Modern Sky Records
Released March 27
Glasgow’s Catholic Action have a lot to say on this their second album. Celebrated By Strangers is the follow up to their 2017 debut, In Memory Of. The observant amongst you will see a clue to the direction the band have taken before you hear a note by comparing the two records artworks. Celebrated By Strangers takes their recognisable Glasgow indie-boys-with-guitars blueprint and, without taking anything away from the sound the fans of their first album will love, they have added layers of synths, other electro gadgets and gubbins and studio mastery to the mix to bring a whole new depth and texture to their collective output.
Despite the added textural qualities that give the new album its distinct character, the album is very much a Catholic Action one. Chris McCrory has a distinct vocal quality that gives away his roots, having an Alex Kapranos-esque timbre to it, with elements of Fran Healy in the more impassioned moments. Never fear they haven’t abandoned the indie boys with guitars touches either.
The album sees a band who have a desire to grow and progress. To use the tools at their disposal, learning and building on their chosen trade. As McCrory himself suggests “with this album I wanted to embrace the studio as an instrument”. McCrory and Co. have embraced the studio to great effect. Utilising what it had to offer and creating an album that is certainly head and shoulders above much of the current crop of pretty boy indie pop bands that attract halls full of identikit teens.
People Don’t Protest Enough
The lyrics show a band well and truly wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Revealing their feelings about the state of the nation in One of Us and the protest song, People Don’t Protest Enough. Laying bare their ultimate belief in self-realisation in the albums closer Four Guitars (For Scottish Independence). The final track is potentially a dangerous move in the current political climate where both “sides” appear to be moving further away from the centre ground. The passion for what they believe appears stronger than their fear of alienation though, they know their audience.
The album announces its arrival with a cacophonous squall of noise at the start of Grange Hell. A track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the debut. This leads the listener surreptitiously into Witness, taking the indie guitars and adding a mellifluous melange of handclaps backed with a some tasty bass licks and effacious synth noise.
The handclaps continue into I’m No Artist. Musically the song fills the middle ground between early 80s angular post punk and New Romantic pop sensibilities. It has elements of seventies disco and funk chucked in for good measure and, why not, a tasty guitar break for your delectation. Well and truly hooked, then One of Us kicks in sealing the deal. A colossal throbbing beast of a tune, it is an accusatory scathing attack on the privileged few who lit the blue touch paper and stood back watching while their actions cause an explosive fall out throughout the nation.
Perhaps fittingly the upbeat 70’s stomp that is tragi-comedy of Yer Old Dad has a riff that reminds this old dad of the theme music of late ‘80s Scottish comedy sketch show Naked Video. Moving from the ridiculously upbeat to the sublime on And It Shows. Laid back and luscious in the extreme. Here, squally guitars, then harmonica are laid over a smooth backbeat (and those handclaps again). Blissfully suave.
“Won’t you tell me what you d-d-d-d-d, what you d-d-d-d-d despise”. Following on the back of One of Us comes one of the other singles from the album. This time the call to arms of People Don’t Protest Enough is an out and out pastiche of idiosyncratic 1970s synth heavy electronica. Sparks fly as McCrory urges us to stop shoegazing, stand up and take some action against those he railed against in One of Us. I can’t help but agree. All too often in this union of nations there is an air of resignation, a defeatist attitude, where the biggest response is an angry rant on Facebook.
Despite its title, Another Name for Loneliness, is a soaring sonic soundscape full of hope and positivity. The song fills you to bursting with uplifting vibes. The feel-good vibe that comes off this track is a seamless entrance to what is the album’s zenith in Sign Here and There Will Always Be a Light.
Sign Here is epic. A trippier psychedelic track than what has come earlier on the album, it is both musically and lyrically solid and reaches its apex with a glorious sax break. The trippy beauty continues into the penultimate track. Perhaps taking an element of inspiration from The Smiths, There Will Always be a Light picks up the baton stunningly from the abrupt ending of Sign Here. An unassuming electronic backbeat overlaid with E-bow laden soaring guitars; the warm, rich fullness of the guitars form a faultless contrast to the delicate mellow vocal. Fucking magic.
When you’re feeling under the weather, and you’ve reached the end of your tether…The album closes with a strident beat underlying the chanting repetition of the stanza in Four Guitars (For Scottish Independence) interspersed with little eccentric keyboard breaks the hypnotic tune comes to a close similar noisy cacophony that opened the album.
Plenty to say and much to enjoy, Catholic Action have used the time between their debut and this album wisely. They have created an album that is as thought provoking as it is joyful and beautiful, as exuberant in its outlook as it is reflective and disparaging.
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