Album Review: The Courteeners – Concrete Love

By on Tuesday, 12th August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

At the end of 2013, Liam Fray revealed there was uncertainty about the Courteeners’ future, or at least doubt on when the Manchester indie rock/pop band would be appearing next at a venue near you. Speaking to Gigwise after a hometown arena show last December, Fray suggested it could be a year or more before they made another live appearance, stressing a “need to go away and decide which ones work best, what we like and reassess really for the next ‘phase’”. Clearly, these qualms didn’t last all that long; songwriting and recording for the group’s fourth album ‘Concrete Love’, to be released next Monday, must have surely commenced soon after.

The first taste of the new album appeared back in June. ‘Summer’ is an unabashed attempt at a summer smash, replete with a bouncy rhythm and feel good guitar strumming that puts you in an island state of mind. When the chorus comes in, there’s an echo effect placed on both the guitars and Fray’s voice that makes ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and ‘You Overdid It Doll’ days of yore seem like a distance memory. For sure, the song has charm at this time of year, but are we really going to be listening to it when the leaves have fallen and winter has taken hold? Doubtful. Still, one could argue that if they’re going for single sales, it was a well-timed effort.

Funnily enough, it was Fray himself who said in that aforementioned Gigwise interview, “I definitely think that labels and producers whatever are putting all their eggs in one basket for two or three tracks. Whereas, I think it has to be about everything really, you have to try and make every song as big”. Maybe this is where they got ‘Concrete Love’ wrong? Each of these 11 tunes on the LP has elements that could be deemed ‘big’, but few have staying power. The collection also suffers from a lack of cohesiveness, as well as an ill-conceived song order.

In stark contrast to the sunniness of ‘Summer’, the album begins with ‘White Horses’ (seriously, what is up with rock stars and their preoccupation with equines?), which is dark, loud and bombastic, as if the Courteeners are trying to shed their pop image. It’s an emphatic beginning but some momentum and mood is lost as it’s directly followed by their current single ‘How Good It Was’. This sees the band embracing the pop/rock sound they’re most popular for, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s not as catchy as ‘Are You in Love with a Notion?’ from last year’s album ‘Anna’, it’s memorable, but if you’re sat listening to this album start to finish, it can feel like an uncomfortable segue.

Nearly halfway through the LP is ‘Black and Blue’: with its frenetic rhythm and Fray’s sometimes menacing cadences, it would have felt more appropriate on an EP with the similar ‘White Horses’ and can be regarded as a natural progression from 2012 single ‘Lose Control’. ‘Saboteur’ is this release’s ‘You Overdid It Doll’ moment, with funk, synths and squeals of guitar. Then there is ‘Next Time You Call’ – with a riff that appears to have been stolen from Elbow’s ‘Grounds for Divorce’ – has Northern swagger, something that there is sadly too little of on this album.

Most of the album’s pace slows to a near halt due to the balladry, in the form of ‘Small Bones’, ‘Has He Told You He Loves You Yet’, and ‘International’, and later on to close out the album with ‘Dreamers’ and ‘Beautiful Head’. These songs aren’t bad, but there isn’t much there to hold your attention for long. Fray’s vocals introducing ‘Small Bones’ are admirable in their sincerity, but the horn section that comes in soon after him seems heavy-handed and breaks the reverie. ‘International’ and ‘Beautiful Head’ have percussive bluster and piano so Coldplay-esque, it’s almost painful. As a result, the album feels schizophrenic: at their shows, are you supposed to jump up and down with abandon, or are you supposed to stand there static or perhaps gently swaying in place with your LED wristband? We’ll have to see how the new material fares at Reading and Leeds.

6/10

The Courteeners’ fourth album ‘Concrete Love’ will be out next Monday, the 18th of August, on Polydor Records. Visit the band’s Web site for more information on how to order signed copies of CDs; deluxe CDs including the ‘Live at Castlefield Bowl DVD, filmed in July 2013 in Manchester; and the album on limited edition white vinyl.

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