The Courteeners: Anna
The Courteeners are very much part of that English brand of lad-pop. They belt their songs and drawl their words, embracing their arrogance and winning over crowds with pithy pop ditties like “Not Nineteen Forever” and “Take Over The World”.
But Anna, The Courteeners’ third album, hits a brick wall. This isn’t standard third album confusion either, but rather third album bewilderment. It’s as though the guys sat down, charted a map of the current pop music landscape and declared that ‘80s was in, and vaunted English lad-ism was out.
The outcome of that conclusion is so-so. “Lose Control”, Anna’s lead single starts well but soon descends into an insipid mix of ‘80s synth and stadium rock. And while Anna’s eleven tracks are an easy listen individually, they’re unvarying and forgettable together.
That said, this is easy enough music to sing along to: not because the lyrics are particularly catchy but because every song seems to include around 100 ‘ooh-ohhhs’.
Foals: Holy Fire
When Foals released their first album Antidotes, I was in my final year of secondary school. Their second album, Total Life Forever, came at a time when I was starting to understand what college was about, and now their third album coincides with my first year as a graduate. Having spent the same amount of time navigating the education system and outside world as Foals have creating albums, there is, for me at least, an odd affinity: Foals’ albums are still associated with times rather than meaningless gaps of time.
Like most, I love music that wrings my brain of everyday thoughts and floods it with summer nostalgia. Normally Friendly Fires are my go-to group for that kind of fanciful dance-about pop – the kind that relocates you to a warm day, with a cold drink, maybe even at a festival like the ones in the O2 adverts. And here, there’s whimsy pop in abundance, particularly in songs like “Inhaler” and especially “My Number”, both of which were made public before the album’s release.
“My Number” isn’t worlds apart from Foals’ earliest output, songs like “Mathletics” and “Hummer”. But where “Hummer” and Co., were slightly more rigid and a little difficult to dance to, “My Number” is that dependable brand of soft pop. The chorus of “cos you don’t have my number” is a great sing-along chant while the trill of the electric guitar keeps the whole thing finger-tappingly upbeat.
Oddly, “Preclude” and “Inhaler” remind me a little of Jane’s Addiction’s 2004 album Strays, as though they share a musical chromosome of sorts. Incidentally, Foals’ last big hit, “Spanish Sahara” was used in the season seven trailer for HBO’s Entourage whose theme track is Jane’s Addiction’s “Superheroes”.
Meanwhile the fourth track, “Bad Habit”, draws a leaf from Temper Trap’s books with its easy-going jangle of guitars, and could undoubtedly soundtrack the next of those aforementioned O2 adverts. But despite the opening tracks’ enthusiasm, the album isn’t an eleven-song list of sing-along tracks to gyrate to while vacuum-cleaning the house. Final track “Moon” for example, is five minutes of chiffon-like pop that chars itself into your memory while “Late Night” is the album’s central break-up track, which builds, then ebbs away.
Like Total Life Forever, Holy Fire tails off somewhere in the second half. Regardless, this is still a great album; where Total Life was inspired by technological super-intelligence, Holy Fire avoids the esoteric and instead favours everyday tales of breaking up, and that person not returning your calls. But more significantly, Holy Fire consolidates a new stage in Foals’ career. This album sees the group leaving behind their arcane ‘math-rock’ roots to channel a new style that could easily propel them to UK pop star status.