For all the fanbase presence and incessant pushes it has, pop-punk as a genre only ever works in fits and spurts. Right now, for instance, when so many of its big players are defecting to pop-rock or emo, or simply holding out for a bigger resurgence in popularity, it’s undergoing a particularly fallow period that doesn’t look to be shifting anytime soon. In a way then, that can be advantageous for a band like Catch Fire to release their debut album; there’s no one to really compete with the limelight, and with some strong early singles to grease the wheels up, this could really work for them. But then there’s the other side of the coin that plenty have fallen victim to in the past, where what’s previously been released isn’t indicative of the album as a whole, and it can leave the band releasing it treading water almost indefinitely.
And unfortunately, that seems to be the case somewhat with Catch Fire; regardless of how strong early singles may have been, the lack of differentiation here really hurts them, and Karma Owes Me A Lifetime Of Happiness ends up as another rather rote entry in the UK pop-punk canon. Perhaps the worst part is that it’s not entirely Catch Fire’s fault, especially when this album would’ve have most likely gone down a lot smoother a few years ago at pop-punk’s peak. All the necessary firepower and emotionality is there, with Miles Kent lending pained, vein-bulging shouts to give tracks like Fault Line and How Heavily I Breathe their oomph, but knowing when to turn it down for more solemn introspection on Third Person. On that level placed in a vacuum, there’s nothing that’s all the objectionable here; Catch Fire know how to write decently weighty songs; the production has a surprisingly good amount of crunch and snarl; and even the lyrical sentiment surrounding the nebulous concept of karma and how the mere existence of bad things happening to good people contradicts it packs a decent amount of punch (even if it can slip into rather standardised pop-punk depreciation more often than would be preferable).
And that would all be fine if it was possible to judge it in a vacuum, but it’s sadly not, and that really does harm what Catch Fire are going for here. Chuck a dart at a list of pop-punk’s big players or notable names, and you’ll hit someone that this band have either clearly been inspired by, or can be compared to without hassle, such is the nature of this sort of pop-punk that’s perfectly fine to stay in its established boundaries. It definitely feels like a safe album, playing to genre norms to the letter without any sort of innovation, and regardless of how they do at it, it makes it hard for Catch Fire to stand out. It certainly doesn’t help that so much of this album simply blends together, making for an album that’s pretty satisfying in the short term as a quick fix, but was clearly designed to be so much more.
It’s not beyond help either – Catch Fire clearly have the chops and raw talent to trim the fat for something a lot better – but at a point when pop-punk is on its latest downswing with the opportunity to do something new being more viable than ever, to see them defaulting to tried-and-true tropes with little else can be fairly deflating. For pop-punk completionists, there’s probably enough to enjoy here, but for those on the search for the genre’s next great white hope, this isn’t there yet.
For fans of: ROAM, Like Pacific, Rarity
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Karma Owes Me A Lifetime Of Happiness’ by Catch Fire is released on 16th November on Rude Records.