There’s really no reason that the Courteeners should’ve lasted as long as they have. They themselves might take it as a compliment, but it’s easy enough to draw tight parallels with them and their Mancunian forefathers in Oasis; both Liam Gallagher and Liam Fray have somehow found their calling within snotty anti-charisma, and both have stretched a fairly basic grasp of rock ‘n’ roll’s fundamentals well beyond their natural limits, landing at a point where, in the year of our lord 2020, drunk, idiot students can still be convinced that Not Nineteen Forever is a good song. But where Oasis could have emotional resonance when they wanted, and a set of rock-solid melodies among their ranks, the Courteeners are fairly critically lacking in that department and have been for some time. The regularity with which their arena and hometown park shows occur would lead the uninitiated to think otherwise, but there can’t be any better explanation for this band’s success than them being the extremely lucky beneficiaries of the indie lottery. And it’s not like the Courteeners themselves can’t realise that they’re effectively just running out the clock at this point, especially with how little they’ve tried to adapt or grow pretty much since day dot. After all, has an album title ever been imbued with a more wheezing, exasperated sigh than More. Again. Forever., where even the band themselves seem to have succumbed to their own boredom and are simply spinning their wheels at the mercy of expectation?
To be fair though, More. Again. Forever. is at least a bit bolder in places than the Courteeners’ regular fare, but where that elevates it in some areas, the whole thing still remains weighed down elsewhere by a band that’s still as profoundly dull as ever. While their horizons might have broadened somewhat, that’s ultimately negligible in the context of an album that’s perfectly comfortable in its indie box, where the Courteeners can provide the illusion of doing more while continuing to rinse the same tired rubric. All of that is to say that More. Again. Forever. is the same tired indie sludge as usual, only slightly dressed up every now and then in the vain hopes that it might make a difference.
And looking at the whole album as a body of work, it really doesn’t, but that’s not to say that the Courteeners’ efforts can’t be admired when they look to do a bit more and pull from outside of their wheelhouse. Hanging Off Your Cloud and Is Heaven Even Worth It? might still cling on to Britpop traditionalism as a pair of orchestral ballads à la The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony or Blur’s The Universal, but some nice layering and decent lushness in the production allows them to stick the landing fairly well. Moving even further afield, the bassy strut and tactile percussion of the title track deftly cuts away all the stodge for easily one of the most inventive tracks the Courteeners have put their name to, to where even a fairly hefty five-and-a-half minute runtime never feels like too much of a drag. These are all good moments that show how creativity isn’t a foreign concept for this band, so why they decide to forgo it for almost everything else in favour of the by-the-numbers indie shovelware is a total mystery. Even when the production quality doesn’t take a considerable drop as it does with the blown-out fuzz of Heart Attack or the baffling choice to compress almost every vocal on Take It On The Chin, there’s still the plodding jangle of Better Man or the dash of The Joy Of Missing Out which might be kinetic, but it’s so middle-of-the-road in tones that indie music sent to its grave in the late-2000s. And then there’s Fray as a vocalist, and despite not being the absolute worst singer that modern indie-rock has to offer (overwhelming anonymity will do that), he’s hardly a firebrand, and delivery deep within the Gallagher school of thought only makes this sort of thing feel even more like a slog.
That’s pretty much par for the course though; the Courteeners know this stuff appeals to their audience of football hooligans and middle-aged men whose parkas and Gallagher trims haven’t changed since 1995, and leaning into it is far easier than trying to incite any change. It’s why so much of this album feels so curmudgeonly in its tone, particularly towards younger generations and the need to instant gratification on the title track or party culture on Previous Parties, and is perfectly content to sink back into its own ignorance and focus solely on the music instead of getting caught up in any wider societal concerns on The Joy Of Missing Out. But because this is a modern indie album, there has to be some bones thrown to the wider audience; it’s why more vulnerable and placid cuts like Better Man and One Day At A Time are here, and the level of disconnect between the two really can’t be ignored. If nothing else Fray has a knack for picking up on some decent imagery and references, but that only marginally softens the blow of an album so clearly pandering to whatever strata of the indie crowd it can to simply keep its head above water. It’s not profound or intelligent, regardless of how much it wants to be, and it doesn’t stop the Courteeners’ efforts from feeling any more pointless.
And that’s kind of where More. Again. Forever. falls – it’s not unlistenable by any means, but it’s certainly unnecessary, doing so little to push the Courteeners as a band beyond a couple of instrumental shifts that it’s barely even worth paying attention to. And even beyond that surface level, the paradigm hasn’t shifted, nor have the band developed any distinctive or interesting personality, instead remaining content with spinning their wheels and pulling from the safe indie grab-bag. The fans will be appeased, but that’s hardly a reliable judgement on quality, especially with this band; rather, it’s safe to say that the Courteeners are always going to be a band whose appeal is confined to that exact space, and more’s the pity that said appeal will likely never be explained.
For fans of: Oasis, Elbow, All The Young
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘More. Again. Forever.’ by Courteeners is out now on Ignition Records.