The Mackem troupe’s debut sees the band uniting the past cult heroes of British pop to create something gloriously infectious
As much as we’d all like to pretend we were spat out of the womb as discerning music connoisseurs, toddling along to [a]Joy Division[/a] and gurgling the lyrics to [b]‘Gold Soundz’[/b], truth is 99 per cent of us started from far more shameful beginnings. But at some point something snapped, the thing that means you’re reading this fine music rag and not rifling through [b]JLS[/b] albums in the Tesco bargain bin.
Everyone has that band. The band that shocked you out of your stupor because they somehow went past merely making music and seemed to stand for a whole way of life. [a]The Libertines[/a], [a]Suede[/a], [a]The Smiths[/a]… all utterly different but all the kind of group that you could genuinely fall into the abyss with, whether you were holding out for some heroes, floating like the litter on the breeze or trapped with the rain falling hard on your humdrum town. Sure, maybe there were people making more technically accomplished or groundbreaking noise out there, but these were bands that could invite you in and absorb your entire existence.
[a]Frankie & The Heartstrings[/a] have threatened to be just the kind of act that creates an entire world, and with [b]‘Hunger’[/b] they’ve done just that. Nods to Mike Leigh and F Scott Fitzgerald, a cover photo that’s like This Is England ’36 and a sound so coherently identifiable yet out of time that it could exist without any temporal reference point at all… sling ’em together and you get a debut that’s less an album and more a manifesto.
Of course, within these reference points there’s an argument that the quartet are merely rehashing the past, capitalising on nostalgic revivalism rather than creating anything new, but [b]‘Hunger’[/b] is clearly the wide-ranging product of its influences rather than a pilfered version of them. [b]‘Photograph’[/b], for instance, opens with a slow-building vocal coo before launching into the kind of exuberantly addictive riff that should be soundtracking Happy Days, casually chucking in a Scott Walker reference and some maracas and ending in Frankie’s frenetic cries of “I’ll hold you”.
The title track is essentially what you’d get if Josef K had written [a]Art Brut[/a]’s statement anthem [b]‘Formed A Band’[/b] – that’s a stupidly addictive mash of handclaps, brass sections and mass harmonies, [b]‘Possibilities’[/b] – a tongue-in-cheek boy-meets-girl tale complete with the campest keyboard part this side of Brighton Pier and comparative newie [b]‘Don’t Look Surprised’[/b] is all about the lush, heart-wrenching climax.
We haven’t even got to the best bits yet. Coming in on an a cappella call to arms that’s more ‘lads on tour’ than barbershop quartet, [b]‘Tender’[/b] is in many ways the true heart of the album; a romantic ode with a quintessentially British knees-up spirit.
Last year the quintet declared that their debut would be an album of singles with the kind of self-assurance not seen since someone last declared “this is our best since [b]‘Definitely Maybe’[/b]”. Ten tracks of exuberant, blissful pop later and it looks like the Mackem lads have actually come good on their promise.[b]‘Hunger’[/b] will, like all great albums, undoubtedly polarise opinions, but take Frankie to your hearts and it’ll swallow you whole.