Review Summary: A vibrant indie-pop record fit to soundtrack anyone's summer.
We’ve had a pretty depressing lack of good indie-pop here in the UK over the past few years. Sure, there have been plenty of bands breaking through, but none in the vain of Franz Ferdinand or Maximo Park who made the art of writing an irresistible hook sound effortless when the genre was in an altogether more healthy state little over five years ago. Nowadays, we’re stuck with bands who value brains above danceability, which has left us with a batch of interesting, but ultimately soulless music which takes far more effort to enjoy – effort which, to be frank, is better exerted elsewhere. What most these bands don’t seem to understand is that while technical rhythms and outlandish influences can occasionally work a treat, there is still little that beats a good, catchy tune, and that sometimes the simplest pleasures can, in fact, be the best.
This is the angle from which Sunderland quartet Frankie & The Heartstrings approach their music, and as this debut full-length displays it’s an approach which can pay off wonderfully if done right. To state it bluntly, there is nothing new or particularly exciting about this band at all. Every trick on show here has been done before by countless other acts, and in all truth some of their songs could quite easily be mistaken for any number of similar bands from the past. What they, and band charismatic leader Frankie Francis in particular, do possess, however, is an uncanny knack for a hook which makes each and every song on this record an absolute joy to listen to. There’s no exceptional musicianship or poetic lyrical genius, just ten short but sweet jangly gems which are guaranteed to raise the spirits of all but the most miserable Scrooge.
Derivative as it may be, there’s barely a moment that won’t tempt you to humm along or tap your foot, whether it be the infectious guitar licks of Hunger, the subtle xylophone touches of Tender or the driving tempo of Don’t Look Surprised. The emphasis may be firmly on hooks, but that’s not to say that the record is entirely one dimensional. Indeed Francis’ desperate vocal in early standout Ungrateful is capable of sending shivers down the spine, while centerpiece Fragile has an undeniable emotional depth that many similar bands would struggle to match. Standards to drop slightly in the second half with some of the songs proving marginally less memorable and perhaps sounding a little rushed, but as far as filler goes it’s still pretty impressive, with each song still proving thoroughly appertising.
Unfortunately, indie-pop isn’t really known for it’s endurance, so it’s difficult to envisage a record like this being remembered overly fondly in a couple of years time. In the short term, though this fabulous collection of gems is more than enough to establish the band in an overcrowded market and is sure to pull in the crowds over the festival season. It may not be an album that’s going to lift the genre out of it’s current state of limbo, but what Hunger does show is that Frankie & The Heartstrings can pull off the indie-pop sound better than any other UK band in recent memory. You’ll be hard pushed to find a better soundtrack to your summer.