The members of The Courteeners have known each other since they were 10 years old, but it wasn’t until 2006 when frontman Liam James Fray decided to bring his childhood friends together to form a band, recruiting lead guitarist Daniel Conan Moores, bassist Mark Cupello and Michael Campbell, who actually had to learn to play drums for the band.
The group hails from Manchester, England — the same city that gave the world The Stone Roses, The Chemical Brothers and The Smiths. The Courteeners’ local popularity grew before they signed with Loog Records, a subsidiary of Polydor Records.
Through their label, producer Stephen Street — who is known best for his work with The Smiths, Morrissey, Blur and The Cranberries — approached them.
Their first album, “St. Jude,” was released in 2008 and was well-received throughout the UK, where it climbed to No. 4 on the UK Albums Charts and gained gold record status. “St. Jude” was a solid dose of pop-rock. Their second album, 2010’s “Falcon,” experimented with darker, more somber tones.
“ANNA,” their newest album, is packed with synthesizers, reverb and only a dash of the pop-rock hooks that brought them to fame just a few years ago.
The album begins with the upbeat “Are You In Love With A Notion,” giving listeners a firm base of smooth, crooning and playful pop. All the elements, from the chirpy piano melody to the jittery guitar, work well together
The band’s first single, “Lose Control,” sounds like it could be on a soundtrack for any John Hughes film from the ’80s. Its heavy synthesizers and muted melody would allow it to seamlessly fit alongside any shopping montage or proclamation of teenage love. If nothing else, it’s a fun dance song. Fray sings “Where did you lose control?” repeatedly throughout the track, and this song answers his question. From this point on the album becomes a confusing mix of synth-pop and half-hearted rock.
“Van Der Graaff” is out of place as it is the only rock song on the entire album. Surprisingly, the guitar actually sounds like a guitar, and the melodic moaning that populates the rest of the album is temporarily put on hold.
“Save Rosemary In Time” and “When You Want Something You Can’t Have” both contain complicated and cliché lyrics that stumble clumsily alongside the decent melodies and chord progressions.
Fray sings, “I’m smarter than your average bear,” before actually saying, “I’ll be your knight in shining armor.” This ridiculous combination seems too absurd to be a real attempt at lyric writing.
In a 2008 interview with radio station KRWC Morrissey reaped praise on the band saying, “Because so many groups in England, they’re hyped and they’re huge and they’re all over the press and they don’t really actually have anything to offer…but it’s different with The Courteeners, they do have very good, strong songs.”
Unfortunately, “ANNA” falls very short of Morrissey’s belief in the complexity and songwriting prowess of The Courteeners. Fray may aim to sing with a moan similar to Morrissey’s, but he lacks the sincerity and depth.
It may benefit them to return to their simpler rock roots and free themselves from the synthesizers and reverb that took “ANNA” hostage.