“I’m trying to be a better man, whatever that is,” Courteeners frontman Liam Fray promises on sixth album ‘More. Again. Forever’ – a record born of ‘the worst years of his life’ and a journey of self-improvement and rediscovery after ‘excess, addiction’ and an existential funk.
Here’s a band often unfairly tipped into the neolithic indie landfill, who have always strived to create work outside of the shadow of the term. Now more than ever, though, there’s vulnerability and an adventurous spirit that’s entirely at odds with their misplaced parka monkey reputation.
The aforementioned ‘Better Man’ is a shameless nod to R.E.M.’s ‘Losing My Religion’, successfully co-opting both its sound and realisation of humility: “Nobody’s perfect, nobody’s perfect / Go on – give us a hand”. ‘Hanging Off Your Cloud’ trades on melody and tenderness, painting a kitchen-sink romance as Fray pines “like a roaming vagabond / In my hometown and beyond / I don’t know what corner you’re gonna be around…”. However, it’s the cinematic and orchestral swoon of closer ‘Is Heaven Even Worth It’ that best showcases a knack of emotion laid bare, yet totally controlled.
There’s also a newfound groove across the record. ‘Heart Attack’ throbs with a glam-rock electro stomp, the spoken-word disco of the title track represents Fray’s streetwise Manc take on LCD Soundsystem and the robotic dance rock of ‘Previous Parties’ has ‘future single’ written all over it. New fan favourite ‘Heavy Jacket’ matches psychedelia with a snarling riposte to living outside of people’s expectations: “Don’t get me started on the lifestyle engineers / Wake up one day with Van Gogh’s hands but nothing between the ear.”
No, it’s not Radiohead or Aphex Twin, and there are moments to please the old indie faithful (notably the indie banger ‘The Joy Of Missing Out’ and pogo-pop Inbetweeners montage soundtrack of ‘Take It On The Chin’). but Manchester’s other Liam and co. have done more than enough to step outside the box.
‘More. Again. Forever’ strikes a mature balance. It’s escapist in its sound but humane in its approach to the world. It’s experimental but familiar, and tests what the band are capable of while proving to be their most focussed work to date.
- Release date: Friday January 17
- Record label: Ignition