The Sunderland band's second album is effortless and skippy, but it does have the odd dodgy lyric
There’s a certain breed of arch indie rock that belongs peculiarly to the north, one that plays wit, studied weakness and flashy intellectualism against a backdrop of rugged industrial history – your Pulps, your Long Blondes, your Smiths, Pastels and Maximo Parks.
Sunderland’s Frankie And The Heartstrings have always been self-identified followers of that creed (first album ‘Hunger’ produced by Edwyn Collins, sleeve features gritty ’70s children, started a bloody cassette singles club), who nevertheless left you with the suspicion that in their haste to embrace outsiderdom, they’d forgotten to pack much in the way of actual brain, stopping only to grab a raised eyebrow and a couple of shonky but loveable tunes. It was the sort of ruse that stood up well under Collins’ production: ramshackle exuberance and heart-in-the-right-place weak vocals are the sort of thing that spark with bristly energy under his touch.
It’s a sound not so well-suited to the sonic world of pop classicist Bernard Butler. The first single Frankie And The Heartstrings released with the ex-Suede man at the controls, 2011’s ‘Everybody Looks Better (In The Right Light)’, boded well, particularly with that perfectly bitchy, bracketed title. Its Talking Heads-ish stop-start guitar promised great things for more work with Butler: Frankie beefed up with a bullish soul-pop skank.
What we actually get, on this, their second album, is songs like ‘Losing A Friend’ – a brave stab at a high-drama heartbreak ballad. It ends up sounding more mawkish than grandiose, even with that twinkling glockenspiel. ‘The First Boy That You See’ also tries on a bit of Butlerian sweep for size, but the added heft in the delivery has the unfortunate side-effect of highlighting the slightly iffy lyrics: surely Frankie Francis must be able to pull something better out of his lyrical bag than “every time I think of you it makes me cry/I never had the chance to say goodbye“?
And that’s the case for much of ‘The Days Run Away’. While the album has an undeniable carefree charm – the rattle-boned shake, rockabilly grrr and chutzpah-laden chorus of ‘That Girl, That Scene’, for example, and the Roxy Music-ish suavery of ‘Nothing’ – at times they can’t quite live up to the pressure to show lasting depth on album number two. ‘I Still Follow You’, ‘Invitation’ and ‘Right Noises’ end up sounding like jangly pleasantries – enjoyable, certainly, but the content and delivery can’t quite match that of their illustrious predecessors.
There’s undoubtedly something there with Frankie – those effortless, skippy choruses aren’t as easy to do as they seem. But he and his Heartstrings haven’t quite found their true north yet.