Friday, 18 February 2011
FRANKIE & THE HEARTSTRINGS - Hunger
This debut by Sunderland five-piece Frankie & The Heartstrings was produced by the legendary Edwyn Collins. Throughout the disc his production brings a gorgeous clarity, a great bass sound and plenty of separation between the instruments. Sadly, that seems to be the band’s biggest strength. Here they are with a brilliantly produced disc featuring a bunch of songs which aren’t always worthy of such technical brilliance. The bulk of their work resembles a sub-standard Kaiser Chiefs or Franz Ferdinand, but often manages to be warmer than that of fellow Mackems, The Futureheads.
‘Photograph’ opens the album with atmospheric oohs and sparing guitar work, though this quickly gets replaced by spiky indie-pop. It might want to make you jump and down (albeit briefly) and showcases a decent amount of energy, but closer inspection uncovers a weakness in the song writing department. A one line chorus provides a refrain, while a stupidly repetitive second half wears thin very quickly. ‘Ungrateful’s slower approach highlights Frankie Francis’s vocals as being an acquired taste. While there’s still nothing hugely memorable here, the pace suits the band a little better. While, as before, the end of the track descends into repetitiveness, it’s ultimately saved by some great drum work from Dave Harper; while no Stewart Copeland, he’s pretty handy with a hi-hat. With a busy bass riff, ‘It’s Obvious’ has an edge that’s not often present elsewhere. The rumbling bass sound combined with some occasionally angular guitar work presents one of the album’s darker numbers; although, once again, The Heartstrings bring little to back up the riffs.
‘Hunger’ employs a ringing rhythm guitar part (one which is somewhat pleasing), set against some rather ordinary drums. Well placed oohs provide something of a hook, but that’s as far as it goes. There’s no chorus – and one would have proved useful here, if not essential. The rhythmic qualities – matched with Frankie’s slightly irritating vocals – call to mind early Kaiser Chiefs, only without the charm. All the same, its sunny feel (and the fact that those oohs lodge inside your head after a while) make it an obvious choice for single release. ‘Want You Back’ opens with a drum riff which tips the hat to sixties girl bands and Phil Spector, but what follows is a really horrid song – one of the album’s worst - being full of parpy trumpets, over which Frankie wails gratingly. There could have been a half-decent arrangement here, but it falls flat once the vocal kicks in - and whoever decided on the final keyboard tone and horn sounds should’ve been taken out and shot.
‘That Postcard’ works fairly well, thanks to Steven Dennis’s solid approach to the bass and Frankie Francis’s slightly quirky vocal sits well here. In the left speaker, most of Michael McKnight’s guitar leads resemble disjointed noises as opposed to a proper riff. A lack of chorus here, once again, lets the side down. The closing number ‘Don’t Look Surprised’ also fares better than most, featuring busy drum work (particularly in the cymbal department), an upfront bass with a tone which recalls early New Order, plus an urgent vocal. The claustrophobic brass noise creeps in towards the end, but not in a way which damages the song.
Throughout the album, the tight rhythm section of Steven Dennis (bass) and Dave Harper (drums) bring consistently good performances (helped no end by that Edwyn Collins knob-twiddling), but often, looking beyond that, ‘Hunger’ feels lacking in anything truly memorable. There’s more than a chance that those who got excited about Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and their ilk will find some enjoyment here, but for everyone else, Frankie & The Heartstrings are likely to bring a feeling of indifference.
Watch the video for ‘Hunger’, featuring the superb Robert Popper: