Sunday, July 28, 2013

Album Review - Frankie & The Heartstrings - The Days Run Away

Album Rating: B
It's difficult to decipher quite how a band as inconsequential as Frankie & The Heartstrings can become so influential. Not ones for sonic adventure, the Sunderland five-piece all but concede their music to be bereft of originality - and some would even say ambition - having shown little to no interest in breaking free of pop music's established conventions. In a way, it's a self-imposed limitation which sums up a group who for all their strengths have always seemed somewhat out of place, especially given they arrived too late to capitalise on mid-'00s indie trends. It's startling, then, that Frankie Francis and company have nevertheless wound up doing rather well for themselves. 2011's debut LP Hunger, for instance, served up a delightful array of jangling gems, brimming with both personality and surprising reserves of staying power, but what's followed has arguably proved even more vital in their journey to prominence.

Gathering funds raised from the record - as well as those raked in from the title track's use in Domino's pizza adverts (a deal they couldn't be less ashamed of!) - the group have effectively reinvigorated their local independent scene with their own label, Pop Sex Ltd, and even opened a shop in their hometown bearing its name. Along with all of this, they've also managed to find time to conceive a follow-up, recruiting former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler to handle production duties, while enticing fans with a typically frank promise of "more of the same, but better."

As it transpires, The Days Run Away doesn't quite deliver on that assurance, although that statement should not be interpreted in an exclusively negative light. There are in fact numerous tracks within its 34-minute runtime which - shock horror! - display clear signs of progression, and not only in the sense of them optimising their craft. Indeed whereas Hunger was dominated by upbeat Orange Juice-indebted nuggets, this album presents a far more balanced array of tracks; its familiar sprightly moments counteracted by a handful of comparatively middle of the road cuts, not to mention moments of genuine introspection. Without doubt the standout in the former category is "She Will Say Goodbye," a glorious slice of Smiths-like romance which boasts one of their finest radio-friendly choruses to date, but the true curveball comes in the form of "Losing a Friend," a lovely slow-burning ballad which would probably have killed the record's early momentum were it not arguably the best song on it.

Encouragingly, those moments where they do choose to remain within their comfort zone are also, for the most part, successful. "I Will Follow You" and "That Girl, That Scene," for example, avoid landfill pitfalls with a glorious wave of hook-laden guitar licks and effective, if preposterously simple choruses - the latter in particular augmented by frontman Francis' camp yet captivating vocal charisma. Existing single "Everything Looks Better in the Right Light" on the other hand adds an quirky, angular twist to a similar formula, and while hardly revolutionary does a fine job in channeling the influence of fellow Mackems The Futureheads.

It certainly makes for a more rounded full-length, and although the end result falls narrowly short of Hunger's excellence, there's no doubt this album marks another step in the right direction. Granted, the universality which ran through its predecessor's finest tracks comes in smaller doses, while the terribly wishy-washy "The First Boy" displays the dangers of a relatively rudimentary band breaking free of their homely shell, but the strides it does make do at least suggest the band members possess a creative spark to go with their careerist ambitions. It's not a particularly cool record, and it's certainly one to avoid for listeners with daring, experimental preferences, but if you're looking for a dash of fun, harmless indie pop, you could do far worse than invest in The Days Run Away. You can, after all, rest assured they'll spend your money wisely.



1. I Still Follow You
2. That Girl, That Scene
3. Nothing Our Way
4. Right Noises
5. Losing A Friend
6. She Will Say Goodbye
7. Invitation
8. The First Boy
9. Everybody Looks Better (In the Right Light)
10. Scratches
11. Light That Breaks

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