Release Date: Feb 21, 2011
Record label: Pop Sex
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
As much as we’d all like to pretend we were spat out of the womb as discerning music connoisseurs, toddling along to [a]Joy Division[/a] and gurgling the lyrics to [b]‘Gold Soundz’[/b], truth is 99 per cent of us started from far more shameful beginnings. But at some point something snapped, the thing that means you’re reading this fine music rag and not rifling through [b]JLS[/b] albums in the Tesco bargain bin.Everyone has that band. The band that shocked you out of your stupor because they somehow went past merely making music and seemed to stand for a whole way of life.
With a name that sounds like they should have been the house band in Happy Days and a foppish frontman with a James Dean-style quiff, Sunderland-based quintet Frankie & the Heartstrings may seem like a long-lost relic from the '50s, but it's the kitchen-sink indie pop of the '80s that defines their debut album, Hunger. Indeed, only the Scott Walker-referencing skiffle of opening track "Photograph" fits in with their early rock & roll image, as the remaining nine tracks unashamedly revel in the sounds of Dexys Midnight Runners on the terrace chants and triumphant brass riffs of the title track, early Pulp on the suitably titled woozy heartfelt ballad "Fragile," and Orange Juice (whose frontman, Edwyn Collins, features here on production duties) on the post-punk knees-up of "Tender," all of which are the perfect foil for lead vocalist Frankie Francis' charismatic yelping tones. The new wave funk of "Ungrateful" and the Franz Ferdinand-esque "It's Obvious" shows the bandmembers aren't averse to the odd indie disco anthem, but the album is much more convincing when it embraces the spiky romanticism of the group's obvious influences, from the tongue-in-cheek boy-meets-girl tale of "Possibilities," to the yearning melodies of "Want You Back," to the brooding balladeering of finale "Don't Look Surprised.
It’s kind of a cockish thing to say, but in a fortnight where it’s all been about PJ Harvey and Radiohead, it feels a little deflatory to be turning one’s attention to Frankie & The Heartstrings. And it is a cockish thing to say, because odds are that more people will derive a greater amount of genuine, no frills, no bullshit, honest-to-god pleasure from Hunger than they ever will from The King of Limbs's hostile ambience or the charnel visions of Let England Shake. But you know… that doesn’t make it better, and while there are some moments of transcendentally dazzling pop nous on display on Hunger, it is, fundamentally a cosy, harmless record in a retro stylee, made by an all accounts pleasant bunch of musicians who have enjoyed a fairly smooth – by today’s standards – ride to where they are now.
Fittingly, given their doo-woppy name, there's a touch of the 50s to the debut from Sunderland quintet Frankie & the Heartstrings. It's there not just in vocalist Frankie Francis's dramatic swoops and intakes of breath, but also in the street-corner-style chanting on Hunger and the braying saxophone of Want You Back. And the decade's uncomplicated view of romance is often present in couplets such as: "You're pretty as a picture/ So cute I'm gonna kiss ya." You have to listen closely to realise there's more to the Heartstrings than snappy retro tuneage.
A joyous collection of smile-along anthems from the Sunderland five-piece. Mike Diver 2011 The English north-east isn’t short of a great band or two. The Futureheads and Field Music might have flown the flag the highest, attracting adoring glances from far-away fans, but just beneath the surface acts like This Aint Vegas have drawn favourable coverage, and splinter (super) group The Week That Was delivered one of the best albums of 2008.