It’s a cliché to talk about “second album syndrome”, but for a band like Frankie & The Heartstrings it’s unavoidable. With their 2011 debut they carved a sound so very ‘them’ that its follow up was always going to be tricky; if they’d stuck to their tried and tested formula, they’d have been derided for churning out the same thing again. But, after a string of support slots on huge tours with the likes of Florence And The Machine, Kaiser Chiefs and The Vaccines, they’d be scoring a bit of an own goal if they didn’t.
So the gist of The Days Run Away comes as no surprise; a compromise that fine-tunes the guitar pop that characterised Hunger, with glimmers of a more sophisticated side beginning to seep through. Both the glossier finish and emotional punch are no doubt something to do with a certain Mr Bernard Butler, who took over the production reins from Edwyn Collins.
Where the likes of Photograph, Tender and the fast food ad soundtracking Hunger were jangly, Orange Juice-lite, their second album equivalents, I Still Follow You, That Girl That Scene and Everyone Looks Better (In The Right Light) have less of a DIY feel to them; they’re notably produced outside of a bedroom. But it’s songs like Losing A Friend – a slow percussion-led track, which you keep expecting to break into driving guitar chaos – and the fabulously melancholic She Will Say Goodbye, that are this album’s star turns. Scratches is almost epic – like The Futureheads aping Coldplay… they get close, but can’t quite bring themselves to do it – while First Boy is a brilliantly downbeat song which, in the finest of pop traditions, gives the initial impression of being fairly upbeat. “…And every time I think of you it makes me cry, I never even had the chance to say goodbye,” croons Frankie Francis, a conscientious student of pop music if ever there was one.
All five of the band come across as music obsessives; studious observers of guitar pop who store their The Smiths seven inches in chronological order and their CDs by label AND in alphabetical order; fans who covet indie releases and the culture that goes with it. Heck, they’re even opening their own record store, Pop Recs Ltd, in their hometown of Sunderland next month. This fanzine-ish dedication to the music they love spills over into the record, making it ooze with warmth and wit – and it’s catchy as hell.
So closing track The Light That Breaks comes as a complete shock. With help from fellow mackems – vocals from Let’s Buy Happiness singer Sarah Hall and a string arrangement from Field Music‘s Peter Brewis – it’s completely unrecognisable as a Frankie & The Heartstrings track. A gorgeous, layered campfire song, it’s elaborate yet simple – a folk song that definitely wouldn’t have snuck onto a C86 record. Which leaves you thinking: with album number three now on the minds, could this be a sign of braver steps they’re readying themselves to take?