If prizes were given out for consistency then Sunderland's Frankie & The Heartstrings would surely be among the nominees. Ever since putting out debut seven-inch 'Hunger' in the closing weeks of 2009, they've always managed to tick most boxes with every subsequent release. Cleverly orchestrated hooklines? Check. Incessant choruses? Check. Intelligent lyrics with occasional subversive twists? Check. The list goes on, and even if some of the reference points are maybe a little too obvious for some people's liking, it would be harsh in the extreme to criticise Frankie & The Heartstrings for choosing to follow the lineage of many a great British band from Orange Juice and The Smiths onwards.
So, bearing all that in mind, it's perhaps something of a travesty that they haven't quite scaled the heights predicted for them. Maybe 2011's debut long player, also entitled 'Hunger', reminisced too much for some folks in favour of establishing an identity of its own? Certainly, the Frankie & The Heartstrings live experience offers a more rounded approach than casual observers have come to discover from their recordings. Watching frontman Frankie Francis deliver yearning heartfelt pleas as those on first album staples 'Want You Back' and 'That Postcard' instils a completely different set of emotions than sitting comfortably at home listening to the record. Indeed, that's part of the problem with many bands since the year dot has revolved around trying to create the atmosphere of a live show in the studio. And with all the greatest will in the world, despite having the legendary Edwyn Collins on production duties, 'Hunger' just fell short of expectation.
This time around, the five-piece have enlisted the assistance of Bernard Butler, and while it would be unfair to credit him alone for the results here, the vast improvement between 'The Days Run Away' and its predecessor is blindingly evident. Whereas 'Hunger' at times felt like a compilation of everything the band had written up to that point, 'The Days Run Away' looks and sounds as if it was crafted intentionally. Engagingly coherent from start to finish, it's a record to cherish in the same way as The Long Blondes 'Someone To Drive You Home', The Housemartins 'London 0 Hull 4' or Veronica Falls self-titled debut. From the quintessentially English doo wop pop of opener 'I Still Follow You' through to the sensual semi-acoustic duet with Let's Buy Happiness chanteuse Sarah Hall ('Light That Breaks') that closes the album, 'The Days Run Away' represents a masterclass in patience and dexterity.
'That Girl, That Scene' (".brings out the worst in me" declares Francis) and 'Right Noises' both taking the short sharp shock approach in contrast to the downbeat 'Nothing Our Way' or maudlin 'Losing A Friend'; there's a mixed bag of emotions at play here which ultimately plays out like 'a day in the life of.' rather than some fantasised kitchen sink drama. It's on the androgynous 'First Boy' and epic showstopper 'Scratches' where Francis and co. come into their own. Whereas the latter could be the script to its narrator's worst nightmare ("Is this really happening again?"), the former's declaration of "I wanted to be the first boy that you see" rages inquisitively among the most intrepid of listeners.
Overall, 'The Days Run Away' is an accomplished record that justifies the belief afforded to Frankie & The Heartstrings since those initial recordings four years ago. What's more, their next venture has the potential to be the band's most exciting excursion yet.
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