Anna sees Rochdale quartet Courteeners make a return after the best part of three years away. Whilst their previous outing, Falcon, ticked all the right arena filled anthem boxes, the difficult third album gives a sense of a band trying to change that dynamic whilst landing in exactly the same postcode. Not that that’s an entirely bad thing.
Doubters were swift to write off Courteeners’ risky decision to work with electronic producer Joe Cross, famous for his most recent collaboration with Hurts. This was particularly the case as fans loved that both 2008’s St Jude and 2010’s Falcon were live fodder on a silver tray.
While Anna is certainly cut from the same ragged cloth as the previous two records, Cross is certainly strategic with his experimentation, making this a fairly big jump from Courteeners’ mould. That’s not to say that die-hard fans won’t be enjoying their fair share of You Did It Doll and Not Nineteen Forever. Production has certainly fattened the album up to make sure the anthems are as arena-friendly as ever but the album also finds the band lacking in the cockiness found on St Jude in the process.
Despite falling back on Liam Fray’s tried and tested wooh-ing strategy, album opener Are You In Love With A Notion treats the listener to what the boys do best – a romp-stomping sing-along. Stand out track Van Der Graaff is a contagious riff-heavy track which will no doubt hit much harder as a future single than the lead single Lose Control which, although starting off bitey, rapidly falls for the follies of so many other arena rock songs that have gone before it. It’s reminiscent of Reverend And The Makers having a bad day.
Unfortunately, the majority of the album follows the same approach with the same straightforward, arena anthems template. Although an obvious flaw, which becomes stagnant by the halfway mark, it does actually highlight what a crucial role Fray plays. 99 out of 100 times his solid vocals keep the album on track and worthy of hearing through to the end. Musically, it feels as though the tracks bend around his Mancunian accent, and in doing so they preserve the Courteeners’ sound that fans loved in the first place. But if it weren’t for this, coupled with his uncanny ability to write the catchiest sing-along choruses in the business, then this would have been a complete write-off. Possibly the best vocal performance of his career is found on the laid back track Marquee, a stripped down, romantic jangle that provides a closer shave compared to some of the album’s rougher cuts.
Credit where credit is due though. Despite the band’s arena rock perspective, it does still make for a lucid listening experience. But it would have benefited from a bit more of a bite. There’s no taking away the fact that their choruses take off with all the pomp and circumstance of a space shuttle launch, but in the end everything makes for sky high production values, and rock bottom stakes. As long as you are willing to take Anna for an unsophisticated, innocent bit of sing-along fun, and fans are sure to be forgiving in this sense, you won’t be disappointed.
Speaking about the new album, Fray has said: “We have re-arrived – welcome to the rave.” Die-hard fans can rest assured that the band have certainly not gone rave but, sadly, there’s really not a great deal to rave about either.