The Mancunian arena-fillers' follow-up to their best album won't win over the naysayers
The Courteeners will always be a lightning rod for anyone with a distaste of guitar-based Mancunian triumphalism, the cottage industry of self-proclaimed prophets and bullshitters conceived by Morrissey and the Gallaghers to which Liam Fray belongs. In his defence, the axe-grinders usually overlook the list of not-inconsiderable achievements his band have to crow about, but coming off the back of last year’s ‘Anna’ – The Courteeners’ best album to date – you suspect that ‘Concrete Love’ will only entrench opinions, not change them.
Fray’s least of all, of course. “The charts are full of cartoons and lawyers having a gap year,” he declares on ‘Dreamers’, the inference being that his band are perched dignifiedly above such debasement. Yet much of ‘Concrete Love’ sounds less informed by the “dreamers and writers, risk-takers and fighters” he sings about than by well-known iconoclasts like Bastille and The 1975. You might be tempted to point the finger at producer Joe Cross, whose history with acts like Hurts and Chlöe Howl sits incongruously with a comparatively rough and ready group like The Courteeners, but his presence didn’t do ‘Anna’ any harm. The real problem is a lack of inspiration, perhaps a result of the speedy turnaround between this record and its predecessor: ‘Black & Blue’ is nondescript landfill-indie clatter, and for all its puff-chested braggadocio, the most notable thing about ‘International’ is the groan-inducing opening line (“You wanna talk about plucky?/ It’s like Mohammed Ali tag-teamed with Rocky”). ‘Summer’ stands out, but only because it sounds like a shameless manoeuvre to join all those soon-to-be lawyers on the Radio 1 playlist.
It’s a shame, because there’s always been more to The Courteeners than hot air, as demonstrated by the likes of ‘How Good It Was’ and ‘Beautiful Head’. Hot air alone doesn’t sustain the kind of fervent fanbase that The Courteeners have built up, and while they’ve never been terribly fashionable, they’ve always used that to their advantage, projecting a underdog siege mentality whilst simultaneously selling out arenas. ‘Concrete Love’, however, is nothing to beat their own drum about.