Album Review: Frankie and the Heartstrings – Decency

By on Friday, 10th July 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

There’s always been something delightfully subversive and cheeky about Sunderland’s Frankie and the Heartstrings. Visually, they’re a throwback to the ’50s with their quiffs, and judging from the press shot we got with the review copy of their third album, they’ve all decided to give in to black, if not all leather like the kind from which drummer Dave Harper’s favourite jacket was made. ‘Decency’, Frankie and the Heartstrings’ latest full-length LP effort, was recorded at the end of summer 2014 with the production help of MJ of Yorkshire psych outfit Hookworms. Since the release of the band’s 2013 album ‘The Days Run Away’, there have been significant lineup changes: lead guitarist Micky Ross left, to be replaced by Futureheads‘ Ross Millard (whose booming backing vocals are clearly apparent on this album), and departing bassist Steven Dennis has been replaced by Michael Matthews of Sky Larkin.

Despite the changes in personnel and the announcement earlier this year that the band’s own Pop Rec Ltd. store on Fawcett Street – itself a creative hub run on the principles of the band’s DIY aesthetic – is due to close this summer, it’s with much relief discovering that the overall sound of the Sunlun group has not been compromised, and neither has their ethos. While ‘Decency’ has 12 tracks, it’s worth noting that the first two are under 2 minutes each, and with the exception of four of the remaining nine songs, the others are all well under 3 minutes. Along with never boring the listener, this is well in line with their continuing effort to write the catchy pop song.

Title track ‘Decency’, clocking in at a mere minute and 44 seconds, is a model of efficiency; it’s a good taster to what Frankie and the Heartstrings does the best, as drums and guitars are tight with charismatic frontman Frankie Francis lead vocals, delivered in rapid fire succession as his bandmates back him with football-style chants. When you are write something as catchy at this, who needs a full 3 minutes? Another taut joy is ‘Someday Anna’, where Francis first sounds like he’s speaking next to you, before the song bursts beyond those confines and the horns come back in to add lightness.

A good portion of this album has been developed to keep your pulse racing, with Harper’s driving drumming and unrelenting guitars. Previously unveiled and borderline camp top tune (with a campy video to match) ‘Think Yourself Lucky’ is laden down with the Motown horns and is another example of good songwriting. Frankly, I’d rather listen to this than some over-produced sludge on Radio 1. (Or, sadly, that new song from The Libertines…) Millard’s guitar on the start of ‘Berlin Calls’ is an unexpected treat, before the rest of the song speeds ahead. The note progressions of ‘Balconette’ are some of the best since the Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice’ (just don’t expect this song to pop up in a feel good film about the North East anytime soon). And the herky-jerky style they became famous for on past singles ‘Tender’ and ‘That Girl, That Scene’ makes another appearance in ‘Save It For Tonight’, its syncopated rhythm irresistible.

The listener is afforded a nice change of pace when the band finally decides to slow down. ‘Hate Me Like You Used To’ has a wistful Smiths feel, even with Morrissey-esque non-word warbling to the melody, and massive-sounding guitars. “Life is only as hard as you make it”, Francis croons in ‘Just Not in Love’, but the introspection doesn’t last long, as if all the band members succumbed to itchy trigger finger. And everything is muted for ‘Knife in My Back’, proving that although songs of slower tempo might not their fans’ live favourites, Frankie and the Heartstrings are up there with the best of them.

Here are the potential problems that affect this album’s appeal: not everyone enjoys lyrics being shot at them machine gun style, nor does everyone enjoy a brass section. (If you don’t think the existence of a brass section on this album is real, read this appeal for brass personnel on Facebook.) Personally, I love both so this album is a no-brainer to me, but I can see for others these could grate on one’s nerves. Then again, with the whole LP totalling around 40 minutes, you can’t go wrong with giving this a relatively quick spin. As you should.

7.5/10

‘Decency’, the third album from Sunderland’s Frankie and the Heartstrings, is out today on Pop Sex Ltd. via Wichita Recordings. For all our past coverage on the band, go here.

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