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Release date: Monday 4th February 2013

Rating: ★★★½☆

“Some things change but the majority stand still…” So opined The Courteeners’ Liam Fray on the opening track of Falcon, the Manchester four-piece’s second album. 3 years on and Fray and co return with the reverb-drenched synth-laden ANNA to prove that The Courteeners have spent this time doing anything but shuffle their feet. But what’s the verdict?

Opener Are You In Love With a Notion? sets the tone for the album both sonically and thematically. Against an 80s style drum beat, uplifting synths and anthemic bombardment of woah-wohs, Fray’s atmospheric vocals tell the story of the album’s titular Anna who, embodying the theme depicted so aptly on the album’s artwork, seeks to leave her humdrum life behind and abscond to her idealist paradise. It’s this theme- along with other typical Courteeners-esque musings on unrequited love, adolescent intemperance and the excesses of youth- which underpins much of ANNA’s narrative.

Lead single Lose Control’s explosive dark take on disco echoes Falcon’s You Overdid It Doll’s warnings about substance-derived lost inhibitions and the price of wanton over-indulgence. Next up, to complete a majestic trio of opening songs, is soon-to-be-fan-favourite Van Der Graaf, arguably one of the best tracks that Fray and co have ever written (despite the fact that it is heavily indebted to Kings Of Leon in style and production), showcasing that with ANNA the band are undoubtedly aiming to move their live shows to venues more suitably sized to match Fray’s ego.

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If ANNA was to continue as it started then The Courteeners might finally have forged the album that they have continually threatened to make since their inception in 2006 but, sadly, it struggles to match and maintain the brilliance of the opening 3 songs. Much of the rest of the album devolves into an approach that can only be labelled formulaic and indie-by-numbers: Sharks Are Circling, Save Rosemary In Time, and Welcome To The Rave have arousing elements but, even though buoyed by Joe Cross’s tight and slick production, ultimately fail to hit the mark. More interesting are the glam-stomp sounds of Money and the more traditional Courteeners-sounding guitar riffs of Here Come The Young Men, but these tracks also suffer from being unquestionably derivative at times.

Marquee, on the other hand, is a slow-paced tender tear-inducing gem that once again shows that Fray is often at his best when conveying sensitivity and vulnerability. The subject matter is similar to The LibertinesMusic When The Lights Go Out, though this time from the perspective of Fray as the scorned male lover. Lyrically, however,the track is indicative of much of the uneven nature that plagues ANNA, with Fray’s lyrics gravitating from the borderline preposterous (“I don’t feel too sound/ Is he better pound for pound?”) to the clunky but wonderfully poignant (“I don’t mean to be so rude but next time you think you might not love someone don’t you think it’s best to tell them earlier on”).

For all Fray’s self-styled comparisons to Morrissey and aspirations to be spoken of in the same breath as Alex Turner and Ray Davies, ANNA shows that his real strength is in knowing how to craft and deliver a crowd-pleasing anthem gilded with an infectious chorus. ANNA proves to be an at-times fascinating but oft-frustrating album that, though it will no doubt satisfy many of the legions of Courteeners fans and win them new ones in the process, falls short of expectations. There is much to enjoy here but ANNA must go down as a missed opportunity for the Manchester quartet, while proving that they might yet still have the talent to make the album that the world is waiting for…

Key Tracks: 

1. ‘Are You In Love With A Notion?’
2. ‘Lose Control’
3. ‘Van Der Graaff’
9. ‘Marquee’

Track Listing:

1. ‘Are You In Love With A Notion?’
2. ‘Lose Control’
3. ‘Van Der Graaff’
4. ‘Push Yourself’
5. ‘When You Want Something You Can’t Have’
6. ‘Welcome To The Rave’
7. ‘Save Rosemary In Time’
8. ‘Sharks Are Circling’
9. ‘Marquee’
10. ‘Money’
11. ‘Here Come The Young Men’

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This article was first posted on February 4, 2013