In 2014, Courteeners unveiled their fourth and - by some distance - greatest album. It reached number 3 in the UK Album chart, achieving their highest chart position to date. In the six years since they released their sharp debut ‘St Jude’ – a pinpoint accurate portrayal of youth enjoying life – the band have been steadily rising. All their albums have gone Top 10 – ‘St. Jude’ (no.4), ‘Falcon’ (no.6), ‘ANNA’ (no.6) - and the growth in their live shows has been exponential and astonishing.
‘Concrete Love’ radiates a confidence that’s perhaps best summed-up by the album’s two greatest moments, both of which are totally different to anything the band has attempted before.
‘Summer’ comes totally from leftfield, a joyous Beach Boys-eseque slice of perfect pop driven forward by a hypnotic, leaping riff. It’s a pure pop moment and all the more thrilling for it. It’s matched for freshness and ambition by ‘Dreamers’ – a five minute epic that’s the perfect encapsulation of Fray’s outlook. It’s an atmospheric call to arms shot through with acute observation on the charts and underscored with a vibrant romantic sensibility. “The charts are full of cartoons and lawyers having a gap year before choosing their employers/But what about my life/Who is singing about that?” laments Fray, before a euphoric chorus bursts through. “Dreamers and writers/Risk takers and fighters….Come on and unite us”.
Yet, there’s also a real vulnerability to Fray’s lyrics and mindset these days as highlighted on the brass backed album highlight ‘International’ as he announces, ‘International Worrier takes the world by storm…..’.
This new sense of musical sure-footedness is partly attributable to Fray’s relationship with producer Joe Cross. “Musically it was very liberating because we were creating in so many different ways. He gave me new confidence with my voice, I’ve never really had that before. I wasn’t forcing it, I was singing” laughs Fray.
The thing easily missed about Courteeners is that they might be earthed in the experiences of growing up in and around Manchester but there’s a tension in their music that comes from a desire and a fascination with breaking out of that.
It’s at the heart of what makes them such an interesting, contradictory group. With ‘Concrete Love’, it feels like they’ve finally got the balance right.