The Courteeners – Anna
With their songs about rowdy nights out and morning after recriminations, The Courteeners have always seemed more comfortable and successful as a live band. Their two album releases so far, 2008’s St Jude and 2010’s Falcon, have been used mostly as live fodder – justifying more lucrative big shows (which have tended to be ‘homecoming’ shows in Manchester). But seeing as playing live is the only way bands can make money these days, it’s not a bad tactic at all – and as the good careerist rock band that The Courteeners obviously are, this third album has been carefully engineered to take their live shows to the arenas and higher up the festival bills.
The first time I listened to Anna, this brazen grasping for stadium-rock acceptance actually made me laugh out loud. The wooh-wooh-ing intro to album opener ‘Are You In Love With A Notion’, the over-reaching Kings Of Leon-isms of ‘Van Der Graaff’, the insipid glam stomp of ‘Push Yourself’ and, worst of all, the diversion into Passion Pit-esque epic synths on ‘Welcome To The Rave’ all conspired to make Anna come across as a perfectly executed parody of a band desperate to be taken seriously as an arena rock band.
The more I listened to Anna, though, it gradually dawned on me that I was missing the point (as usual!) by thinking too much. This is an album designed first and foremost to be fun and entertaining – an innocent form of skyscraping indie-rock made with escapism and crowd-participation in mind.
After that realisation, Anna becomes a colourful, engaging and enjoyably diverting experience. ‘Are You In Love With A Notion’ is transformed into a brilliant sing-along album opener. Lead single ‘Lose Yourself’ is a rollicking rock and roll stomp and ‘Van Der Graaff’ shines as an addictive riff-heavy future single. Even the stupidly named ‘Save Rosemary In Time’ becomes an innocent bit of fun, rather than the uninspired rock-by-numbers it initially seemed to be.
Of course, the album is helped not only by Liam Fray’s undoubted charisma (only he could get away with the ‘tut tut finger wag’ line on ‘Sharks Are Circling’), but also his uncanny ability to write instantly memorable and classic choruses. Anna is littered with massive choruses that will have you singing along almost immediately.
When I first saw The Courteeners live, way back in 2008, it struck me how much the whole gig revolved around Liam Fray – even to the extent that the rest of the band left him on stage to perform the slower acoustic tracks on his own. Even though Anna is geared towards a bigger sound, Fray is still very much centre-stage and has his quota of show-stopping and heartbreaking acoustic numbers that nicely show off his lyrical and tender side. ‘Marquee’ is the best of these, which has Fray at his vulnerable and love-lorn best: “Stay up late and think of where you might be / I can’t sleep I’ve got the image of you and him in the marquee / He made you smile when did I stop doing that? / Was it happening for a while? / You should have just said instead I’m lying here wrestling demons in my bed”. It’s an emotional sucker-punch that works well alongside all the uptempo rocking and is sure to go down as a live favourite.
Fans of The Courteeners will undoubtedly herald Anna as their strongest and most consistent album yet. If, like me, you’ve been more of a casual follower of them, approach Anna as nothing more than a simple and innocent bit of foot-tapping, sing-along fun and you won’t be disappointed.