The footie fans’ favourites return for another shot at musical greatness. Back of the net? Not quite…
Courteeners frontman Liam Fray doesn’t so much write albums as submit application letters every other year to the exclusive club of musical greatness. The man’s ambition is unrelenting. It’s not ambition that manifests itself via a big gob, and you could never imagine him saying “Dylan’s eating the chips while I’m sliding the champagne bottle up my arse” or whatever it was Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell said back in 2004. Instead, Fray’s aspirations have been made clear across the Manchester quartet’s three albums. When they followed their successful 2008 debut ‘St Jude’ with 2010’s ‘Falcon’, it became clear, in songs like ‘The Opener’, that Fray wanted The Courteeners to be an anthem-heavy arena band rather than the jangly band ripe for soundtracking The Inbetweeners that early singles like ‘Acrylic’ suggested they might become.
Their third album, ‘Anna’, sees Fray’s ambition pumped to full fatness, with vastly improved results. The first half is pretty much flawless. Opener ‘Are You In Love With A Notion?’ steams along with the piano-thump of Doves soaring at their highest. ‘Lose Control’ shakes up the groove of ‘You Overdid It Doll’ from ‘Falcon’ with some U2-ish guitar squalls. The Two Door Cinema Club disco-rock of ‘Push Yourself’ should be as difficult to remove from indie nights as the Red Stripe that’s been trodden into the dancefloor, and ‘When You Want Something You Can’t Have’ is as simple and touching as its title. But the real triumph is the majestic ‘Van Der Graaff’, which, despite featuring the line “We’re splitting up like the A57”, is the most complete and beautiful thing Fray has ever written – a scarves-in-the-air moment set to turn three minutes and 41 seconds of each night of their next tour into a sermon rather than a sweat-fest.
Sadly, though, the momentum doesn’t carry. ‘Welcome To The Rave’, with its screwy synth riff, niggles like an annoying kids’ TV show theme when you’ve got a hangover. ‘Save Rosemary In Time’ and ‘Money’ are just boring, and some clanging lyrical clichés start popping up like warts. There’s a “knight in shining armour” and a “get out of jail free card”, and on ‘Sharks Are Circling’, sharks do indeed circle. It’s enough to make you throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care.
To play up to the stereotypical image of The Courteeners as a band for football fans, ‘Anna’ falls frustratingly short of hitting the back of the net. At its best it’s the sound of a band shining brighter than most in recent memory. But, annoyingly for Liam Fray as well as those of us willing him on, his application for greatness needs at least one more rewrite.