A joyous collection of smile-along anthems from the Sunderland five-piece.
Mike Diver 2011-02-18
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. Frankie & The Heartstrings therefore have some pretty fertile soil to call home, hailing from Sunderland (and, during their existence, sharing DNA with local legends Kenickie) – but their modus operandi is fairly far removed from anything previously proffered by their fellow townsfolk.
This five-piece might be worthy of here-and-now buzz, expected by many to feature on the BBC’s Sound of 2011 list (they didn’t, though it shouldn’t harm their chances of mainstream recognition), but their sound harks back to another era of indie-pop. Indeed, they rewind the compositional clocks a whole generation, with whispers of Orange Juice and Dexys Midnight Runners in the band’s musical make-up. And there’s the look, too. No getting around it: Frankie & The Heartstrings aren’t your usual cool kids on the blogosphere block, threads and haircuts bearing distinct traces of the 1950s – front-fellow Frankie Francis (what a name there, chap) sporting a marvellous James Dean quiff. It all serves to set the group apart from the seasonal slew of first-quarter contenders.
By standing out so prominently, Frankie et al will inevitably take their share of knocks. Accusations of style over substance, perhaps, from quarters unwilling to give debut album Hunger the time it deserves. Well, let them have their slings and their arrows – it means that these 10 ten tracks will be all the more adored by those who’ve a space in their hearts for mellifluous music that isn’t trying to be big nor clever. By doing things their own way, releasing a series of limited-run goodies via their own Pop Sex label, this band has steadily built a community committed to their cutesy, carefree anthems from a bygone pop period. And loyalty has been rewarded, as Hunger’s snappy riffs and taut percussion, with the mainman’s purring baritone, combine to great effect.
At its best, tracks ingrain themselves immediately – the "whoa-whoa" joy of That Postcard, Hunger’s brilliant celebration of standing up for one’s friends and ideals, Tender’s meandering guitar-work underpinning vocals that climb away to dizzy heights. Even when tracks pass without too much of an impression left, the listener is never without a smile on their face – there’s simply that much fun on show. Unless, of course, they’re not prepared to allow a little northern charm to brighten their day. More fool, them.