Itried to explain, “it’s a cultural thing”, somewhere between one and seven beers. I was attempting to explain to a friend why The Courteeners are so big in Manchester; coming from the North-West I feel like I have more of an insight. The band churn out unpretentious songs with everyday lyrics that resonate with the man on the street, which endears them to legions of Mancunians. Their following in the city is massive, filling a gap left by The Stone Roses and then Oasis; they sold out the 25,000 capacity Heaton Park last year and are playing the 50,000 capacity Old Trafford cricket ground in May next year. Liam Fray follows Liam Gallagher and Ian Brown as a distinctive lead singer with arrogance and swagger. The unusual thing for me was always why The Courteeners aren’t bigger down south. This seems to be changing now, however, as the group are selling out larger venues in the South, including the O2 Academy in Bristol on their upcoming tour.
The new album, Mapping the Rendezvous, is the group’s fifth album. The previous effort, Concrete Love, achieved reviews that can only be described as ‘mixed’. On a first listen, it is obvious that the band are crafting a different brand to the previous brash pub-rock sound of the St Jude era. There is much more experimentation with different styles; this is refreshing but perhaps endangers their image as an unpretentious band and risks alienating some of their fans.
The album kicks off with ‘Lucifer’s Dreams’, perhaps a more traditional indie-rock number compared to some of the other songs; fast-paced with a tap-along drumbeat, it’s certainly enjoyable if not particularly memorable. The singles ‘Kitchen’, ‘No One Will Ever Replace Us’ and ‘The 17th’ all stand out and punctuate the album well. ‘Kitchen’ has a powerful drum beat and earthy guitar part; however, the addition of a trebly riff reminiscent of INXS is a bit different and distinguishes it from previous hits. The lyrics might be thought of by some as mundane, but the fact that that Fray can craft relatable stories of day-to-day life endears him to many fans. ‘No One Will Ever Replace Us’ shows us that the band have not forgotten how to deliver a catchy chorus, while ‘The 17th’ is arguably the best song on the whole album; it builds fantastically and it isn’t hard to imagine a crowd singing the words back at the end of a show.
borderline dull and lyrically vanilla
As the album progresses it somewhat loses its way. Ironically, ‘Most Important’ is borderline dull and lyrically vanilla, surprising considering how Fray has been praised for his lyrics in the past. It feels unnecessary after ‘Finest Hour’, another nostalgic slow song which starts with a piano accompaniment and then builds as the band enter later on, although not exactly interesting. Mapping the Rendezvous contains some fantastic upbeat indie-rock tracks and it is certainly more refined than earlier efforts. However, Liam Fray’s Marmite reminiscing, especially in the slower tracks, may not be to everyone’s taste. There are a few too many forgettable songs, and this unfortunately cheapens the album as a whole. Nevertheless, the album is a good listen, and the new creativity shown is definitely welcome.