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The Courteeners – St Jude
By Martin Hall
Some bands are born great, some achieve greatness, others have greatness thrust upon them. If you believe their singer/guitarist Liam Fray, The Courteeners are all three.
Make no mistake: if confidence was an Olympic discipline, Fray would be staggering under the weight of gold medals. From his first NME interview (where he described The Enemy as “little pricks” who he’d like to volley into the Irwell) to the recent cover story (where he declared his band’s album St Jude the best since Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not), self-doubt has never been on the agenda for the 22-year-old Middletonian. This is no bad thing and the music industry runs on the kind of shoot-from-the-lip gobbiness Fray specialises in but it means expectations for his band’s debut are ten storeys high.
So: St Jude – What The World Is Waiting For or Fools Gold?
‘Aftershow’ is the song they kick off their gigs with and the album’s opener. As a live outfit, The Courteeners are untouchable - particularly when they’re on their home turf of Manchester – and producer Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur, Babyshambles) succeeds in translating their coruscating punkiness onto this record and with this track he’s produced an album opener in the same league as ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ or ‘I Wanna Be Adored.’
It’s followed by the brilliant ‘Cavorting’, the limited edition debut single. It crackles with the cocky hormonal exuberance of youth; an outstanding, song, even if the lyrics have been altered from the original: “I was listening to the single and couldn’t believe I’d sung ‘We’re hooligans’,” Fray confessed in a recent interview, “So I changed it to ‘You’re Hooligans’”
He's a more thoughtful lyricist than many have given him credit for and ‘Please Don’t’ is a much more reflective number about his inability to stay friends with a former girlfriend – “Please don’t pretend that we’ll stay friends/ ‘Cos you know as well as I do that that, well that just never happens” – which reveals a more vulnerable side – “But those days are past/ And these types of relationship never last.” The guitar line is almost as deceptively simple as ‘Elizabeth My Dear’s’ with an equally acerbic pay-off: “Oh darling can’t you see that it’s got fuck all to do with me?” Liam Gallagher with a library card; an iron fist in a velvet glove.
If that song is not the next single, ‘Bide Your Time’ should be. Even though this version isn’t as good as the original demo from 2006, it’s Marr-esque guitar and chorus as catchy as crabs would make it a natural contender to be their first Top Ten. ‘No You Didn’t, No You Don’t’ is as Smithsian as you’d imagine from a singer who declares himself “a Morrissey with some strings” on ‘What took You So Long?’
Latest single ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ is the best Mancunian anthem since ‘Live Forever’, all gleaming, irresistible choruses and hooks so huge Fray could hang his spectacular array of raincoats on them. It sounds like Noel Gallagher fronting The Strokes with Fray singing “Oh well, never mind/You’ll probably never look that pretty again” in the same accent he’d order a pint of milk in.
‘Fallowfield Hillbilly’ is an angry tirade at annoying scenesters living in Manchester’s student suburb and berates the sheep-like mentality that exists amongst certain cliques. Despite starting out as an acoustic singer-songwriter, Fray is definitely not typical of that particular breed and ‘If It Wasn’t For Me’ is as sharp as a Stanley knife with the particularly cutting lyric “You make me cringe/ I’d like to stick a syringe in your arm.” He swaps aggression for affection on the closing ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ and sounds like Stephen Fretwell, someone he’s previously cited as a huge influence.
While many have slated The Courteeners for wearing their influences too obviously on their sleeves, The Stone Roses, Oasis and The Smiths are some pretty fucking good influences as far as guitar music goes and Fray’s lyrics are intelligent enough to avoid the area postmarked ‘Ladrock’. Whether his public pronouncements overshadow his band’s music is a question that can only be answered in time.
But for now – fuck that. At long last, Manchester has produced a band that’s worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those above.
Believe the hype.
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