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The Courteeners

Neo-Britpop on the crest of a wave since ARCTIC MONKEYS, The FRATELLIS and The MACCABEES emerged from the pack in the mid-00s, Middleton’s melodic The COURTEENERS were more than confident to swipe the mantle from all their Manc peers. In a long lineage that spawned The SMITHS/MORRISSEY, The STONE ROSES/IAN BROWN and OASIS/BEADY EYE, cocksure leading light Liam Fray was of the opinion that he and his posse were next in line to become the next big patron saints of lost causes. Watching fans mime or shout out Liam’s lyrics as they performed at numerous festivals around the country (and Europe), was a measure of how massive they’d become in such a short space of time – an unimpressed America has yet to be conquered.
Friends since a young age before each were spread around the systemic secondary high schools of Greater Manchester, singer-songwriter/guitarist Fray ended up studying creative writing at the University of Salford, where his primary ambitions were allowed to ferment into performing part-time at local mic nights. Drip-fed favourable feedback from a following that grew extensively around the club scene, his decision to instigate neighbour Michael Campbell to play drums, was an insight to how driven he’d become. In October 2006, with guitarist Daniel “Conan” Moores and bassist Mark Joseph Cuppello in tow, The COURTEENERS played their inaugural gig at the Manchester Roundhouse.
The talk of the town after receiving some publicity after their “indie” debut single, `Cavorting’, was released by James Oldham’s London-based Loog Records, The COURTEENERS signed a major deal at Polydor, and soon occupied a position within the Top 50 by way of `Acrylic’. Pitted with legendary producer Stephen Street (who’d worked with numerous Britpop icons), `What Took You So Long?’ and `Not Nineteen Forever’ both cracked the Top 20 at a time when indie singles were flagging in the wake of the growing recession. Unafraid to project both pertinent pieces (plus `Cavorting’) proudly in among their Top 5 debut set, ST. JUDE (2008) {*7}, Liam and Co probably exhausted too many SMITHS/MORRISSEY references for one sitting. Manchester’s answer to The LIBERTINES/PETE DOHERTY, with Liam’s drawl exaggerated profoundly, further cash was raised when Match Of The Day used follow-on Top 40 hit `No You Didn’t, No You Don’t’ as their backing track; the exclusive `That Kiss’ generated sales enough to garner similar results.
In anticipation of the Ed Buller-produced “difficult” Top 10 sophomore set, FALCON (2010) {*6}, the record divided reviews from middle-aged pundits seemingly at the ready for their downfall. A FRANZ FERDINAND-like `You Overdid It Doll’ (their final Top 30 assault), previewed the set in typical mouthy motif, although it was far too sentimental and romantically brooding to earn a place among quintessential Britpop fare. Despite the piano-led semi-classic, `Take Over World’ (an undeserved flop 45), unanimous cries of “Stop Me If You’d Heard This One Before” were the feeling toward `The Opener’, `Good Times Are Calling’ and `Scratch Your Name Upon My Lips’ (the lead song from subsequent EP, `Electric Lick’).
A transitional time for The COURTEENERS, a decision was made to switch labels to V2 Records/PIAS Cooperative, leaving behind some graceful B-side covers:- `New Romantic’ (LAURA MARLING), `Out To Get You’ (JAMES), `I’m Sticking With You’ (The VELVET UNDERGROUND), `About You Now’ (SUGABABES), `Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ (The MAMAS & THE PAPAS), `Zero’ (YEAH YEAH YEAHS) and `There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ (The SMITHS).
Having worked up frenzied audiences performing at Delamere Forest, and the usual Isle of Wight and V Festivals (among sold-out tours across the country), COURTEENERS finally unveiled their third album, the Joe Cross-produced ANNA (2013) {*7}; note: they’d now dropped the definite article. Predictably in and out of the Top 10, the set was marked by anthemic indie-pop ballads `Are You In Love With A Notion?’, the 80s-like `Lose Control’ and the swaggeringly majestic `Van Der Graaff’. Described frustratingly as favourites for footie fans, Fray and Co verged on falling into a trap of complacency, but with fans desperately clinging to their best-new-band, things looked optimistic.
Sticking with Cross, COURTEENERS opted from a streamlined, synth/post-punk pop style on CONCRETE LOVE (2014) {*6}. The quartet’s deepest and most reflective set of songs yet, reaching the Top 3 by usual pre-orders alone, their swooning fist-pumping anthems were becoming old-hat to the everyman and his pooch, although playlist endorsements from Radio 1 disc-jockeys ensured that fervent fans would not miss obvious killer tracks, `How Good It Was’, `Small Bones’, `Black & Blue’ and the slushy `Summer’.
Switching labels for the umpteenth time (Ignition Records were the benefactors), Fray and his COURTEENERS looked forward to their capacity-filling Old Trafford Cricket Ground gig in November 2016 by releasing their fifth Top 10 album, MAPPING THE RENDEZVOUS {*7}. In true tradition of The LIBERTINES and ARCTIC MONKEYS, the record had an immediate marmite effect on their most dogged fans: some impressed by the, as-always, quirky nature of their songs (`No One Will Ever Replace Us’, `Lucifer’s Dream’ and the razor-sharp `Not For Tomorrow’), and others unaffected by the derivative `De La Salle’, `Kitchen’ and `Modern Love’. Americans need not worry of any impending release any time soon.
Marking exactly 10 years since its bolt-from-the-blue dispatch, April 2018 saw a separate chart run for ST. JUDE RE:WIRED {*6}. Whether this “unplugged” track-for-track re-imagining was worth raiding one’s austere bank balance; well, that was a moot point, but bona fide COURTEENERS devotees would keep the omnipresent hype in tact.
© MC Strong/MCS Aug2015-Apr2018

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