By Kieran Bowie
“(The period) after the second and third record can be really difficult because you’ve got to prove you can sit at the top table” Courteeners frontman Liam Fray stated ahead of the release of their fifth studio album, Mapping the Rendezvous. Courteeners haven’t disappointed, and in the north of England at least, seem comfortable on top of the world.
Courteeners have come a long way from their humble beginnings in Middleton and the natural consequence of being a band for around a decade is a change in sound and style. Courteeners are no different, as the overall sound of Mapping the Rendezvous differs from any of their previous albums, particularly their debut St. Jude. It feels like more of a case of polishing their trade rather than losing touch with their roots, with plenty of their defining sound for the dedicated fans to enjoy. Their progression showing that Middleton’s most iconic sons are going anything but stale.
Tracks like The Dilettante are clear high points for the album. You can clearly see the impact that writing the album in Paris has had on the lyrics, and yet another example of Fray not taking himself too seriously, opening the song “maybe I’ll go travelling and marry a French girl, improve my verbs.” Michael Campbell’s drumming ability is showcased as well, particularly his fills, which are precise and really add to the grand atmosphere created by the song.
No One Will Ever Replace Us, one of the singles, is another highlight. Written about finding love at a music festival, which as Fray admits, isn’t the easiest destination to meet the love of your life. No One Will Ever Replace Us represents the furthest shift from the band’s original sound yet, with its prominent bass line showing how much the band has evolved since forming back in 2006. Fray’s confidence does occasionally border on arrogance, proclaiming “No one will ever replace us, you doubted it, but I never did” but his confidence feels wholly justified. The tracks also likely to take a spot on the setlist for their upcoming UK and European tour, so get listening.
The track most suited to the band’s live shows is certainly Modern Love. The drums are fast, the bass is tight and the guitar is gloriously atmospheric. Fray shows some love to the musical heritage of his hometown, Manchester, with a reference to legendary Smiths pub the Star and Garter, famous for their Smiths disco’s and offers a lesson in French while he’s at it, stating ‘incroyable’ is ‘French for incredible’. Well apparently anyway.
The final single of the album, De La Salle, is probably Mapping the Rendezvous’s weakest point, struggling to compare to other songs in which Liam has ditched the electric guitar for an acoustic in the past, such as The Rest of the World Has Gone Home from their second album Falcon. The song still has a strong chorus and the lyrics show off Fray’s more light hearted side, with him wondering if Joan of Arc ‘ever slipped and slice her thumb chopping onions in double home economics’. Whilst Courteeners are arguably at their strongest when confronting the likes of ‘Fallowfield Hillbillies’ as they did on their debut, these kind of changes of tone make a refreshing change.
Criticism of the album seems to stem from the large number of slower songs featured, which struggle to translate to the band’s live shows. A fair point, however, slower tracks such as, Most Important, help to create a well-rounded album. It will be interesting to see how many of the songs from Mapping the Rendezvous make it onto the setlist once the tour comes around due to their slower tempos.
The accompanying DVD of their show to 25,000 people at Heaton Park in 2015 gives fans a glimpse into what they can expect in May 2017 where the band play their biggest show yet, at Old Trafford Cricket Ground to over 50,000 people. Having spoken to the band at HMV signing for the release of Mapping the Rendezvous, Liam told me the response to this album is “the most unified positive response they’ve had from their fans yet”. That fan response is clearly something the band takes into consideration and this album feels like a celebration of the journey that the band and fans have shared, from the Manchester Roadhouse in October 2006 to 200 people, to 50,000 at Old Trafford in 2017.
When the band played Castlefield Bowl in 2013, Fray nonchalantly declared “We don’t care if people don’t write about us, we don’t care if people don’t play us, we’ll keep writing, and we’ll keep playing”. So long as Courteeners carry on producing albums to the standard of Mapping the Rendezvous, you can be sure there’ll be an audience there to see it.