“No one will ever replace us,” goes one of the more memorable choruses on The Courteeners’ fifth album – and after eight years as Britain’s “biggest underground band” it might even be true. For much of their career, The Courteeners have been scorned by critics, spurned by radio and derided as lad-rock knuckle-draggers who couldn’t get arrested outside of Manchester. Yet they’ve kept releasing albums, filled ever-larger venues and swollen the ranks of devotees who hang on Liam Fray’s every double entendre. To paraphrase that other famous Mancunian cult leader Morrissey: the more you ignore them, the bigger they get.
Given their ‘band of the people’ cachet, it’s no surprise to find that ‘Mapping the Rendezvous’ largely preaches to the converted. Garage-psych opener ‘Lucifer’s Dreams’ has a little light-hearted fun at the expense of the “beautiful people” of That London, while the aforementioned ‘No One Will Ever Replace Us’ is a swaggering torch song about falling in love at a festival. Elsewhere, the string-laden whimsy of ‘De La Salle’ finds Fray wondering, with a flourish of Morrisseyan absurdity, whether Joan of Arc, “ever slipped and sliced her thumb chopping onions in double Home Economics”.
For the unbelievers, however, the problem with ‘Mapping The Rendezvous’ is the same one that’s plagued them since their 2008 debut ‘St. Jude’ – namely, they’ve only made half of a very good album. For every track like ‘Kitchen’, with its sly funk-rock riffing on Ian Dury’s ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’, there’s the sledgehammer sentimentality of ‘Most Important’ or fag-packet balladry of the misleadingly titled ‘Finest Hour’.
To put it bluntly, when Courteeners aren’t writing songs to be bellowed back at them by a field of misty-eyed acolytes, they’re a far better and more interesting band than they’re given credit for.
Still, it’s hard to imagine Liam Fray losing sleep over it. To the ears of their detractors, Courteeners will always sound unexceptional, but in the eyes of the faithful, ‘Mapping the Rendezvous’ will only make them more irreplaceable.