‘In Memory Of’ is a postcard from a band on the brink. It’s the sound of Catholic Action setting their sights on success, without sacrificing any of the quirks that have earned them a devoted following from Glasgow’s DIY scene. Fortunately this tension results in one of the most self-assured debuts you’ll hear all year.
Outrageously glam guitar solos and a party-starting bass set a rapid pace, and it’s a treat to hear hedonistic early single ‘L.U.V.’ kick the album off. There’s a couple of other familiar tracks too - both ‘Breakfast’ and ‘The Shallows’ have been tried and tested on the live circuit - but they’ve not lost any of their usual sweaty, sticky joy.
Newer cuts like ‘Propaganda’ sound right at home, with choruses that hit so instantly you’ll be word perfect by the second listen. It’s easy listening, but there’s a world of odd details and shadowed double meanings lurking behind the pop gloss. Slick, memorable hooks are offset by savvy lyricism, and every guitar lick has an unexpected twist. This perfectionism is no surprise, though. Chris McCrory is a sought-after producer, having worked on local favourites like Breakfast Muff and Siobhan Wilson. Still, they teamed up with Margo Broom (Goat Girl) to finish off In Memory Of, and credit her with keeping the band’s mixed ambitions focused.
Occasionally those pop ambitions stray close to cliche: ‘New Year’ has a festival-ready, spill-yer-pints beat and a hackneyed line about playing gigs in empty rooms whilst thinking of pretty girls. Hardly the most original material, but in Catholic Action’s hands it’s still enjoyably silly.
But for the most part, and as the name suggests, ‘In Memory Of’ has a morbid feel. Although ‘The Shallows’’ chorus of “I wanna give myself to you” sounds like a boozy love song, it’s in fact a story about a local suicide spot, hinting to far darker depths. The record spirals to a melancholy close - melancholy by this album’s standards, anyway - and ‘Stars and Stripes’ promises still greater things to come: “I’ve grown into a fine young man, walking far from ho-o-ome,” they howl, before the feedback fades out.
A suitable memorial for the band they’ve been, and a mission statement for the band they’ll become, ‘In Memory Of’ sees Catholic Action put all their faith in pop songs. Join their congregation.