The second album from Catholic Action sees the band embracing (carefully) electronic flavours to flesh out their sound a little. There had been some intention for Catholic Action to attempt to redefine the idea of a guitar band according to singer and guitarist Chris McCrory, but that idea must have been shelved, because Celebrated By Strangers is the sound of a band that is still very much loving the sounds of the guitars and bands that inspired them.
Still, there’s a lot more vim and vigour to Catholic Action this time around, and much of that has to do with the politics that’s seeping into their lyrics. That’s not to say they’ve gone for a complete control Clash overhaul or immersed themselves in the Manic Street Preachers Bible, but there’s definitely a drive and a focus to them this time around. They have refined that post-punk approach perfectly and imbued it with a healthy dose of pop and ’70s glam pomp. The result is a series of songs that drill their way into your brain effectively via a series of pin sharp guitar riffs, handclaps and hooks.
The most obvious influence comes from fellow Glaswegians Franz Ferdinand, whose spiky approach to earworms has been capably channeled, but there’s much more to Catholic Action than mere facsimile. There are little touches of Devo here and there, and with opening track Grange Hell, kicking off with a squall of horns, there’s a brief nod to the likes of Captain Beefheart too. The band might well quickly ditch the skronk, settling instead into a spiky pop anthem, complete with rolling bassline, buttoned-down guitar line and a great vocal hook, but that little hint of the avant garde just adds a pleasing jolt.
They channel the twitchy outsider pop of Talking Heads for I’m No Artist, a particular highlight early on, which relies on handclaps and a relentless bassline to thunder its way into your brain. “I’m not great with words… I’m no artist,” intones McCrory as the song builds from a stripped back affair and into a squalling rock guitar wig out. It’s a song that defines Catholic Action’s sonic approach perfectly. Capable of skeletal arrangements, pomp rock flamboyance, outright pop and smarty pants lyricism, it’s all here, and it’s across pretty much every song on Celebrated By Strangers.
One Of Us is a concise and catchy observation of the state of the country. Whilst keeping the lyrical content to a bare minimum, Catholic Action still manage to convey the ideas of class, intoxication and identity via a short sharp shock of remarkably catchy new wave pop. Yr Old Dad’s tale of absent parents is surprisingly upbeat and pitches itself somewhere between The Glitter Band and the Rolling Stones‘ Sympathy For The Devil (Woo WOO!). The infectious political pulse of People Don’t Protest Enough and Go Away (Four Guitars For Scottish Independence) both highlight the more serious side of their approach, but they don’t compromise their songwriting in order to make a point.
There’s more to the band than irresistible pop nous though, and the tempo does slow down somewhat as the album continues, giving a little more depth and scope. The stoned isolation of And It Shows lollops away in a nonchalant, heavy-lidded manner, whilst the slow moving sax-infused Sign Here and the elegant but subdued There Will Always Be A Light show a more reflective side to the band. Whilst it’s good to see another side to the band, it’s the sheer spiky pleasure of their more direct moments that stand out.