Courteneers were not always known as such. Back in 2008 when they released St. Jude, they still went by The Courteneers but well before that, in their initial iteration, they went by the moniker of their frontman, Liam Fray. Fray wrote all of the lyrics and music for every song the band have released, even creating the minimalist portrait of Audrey Hepburn that graces the cover.
Unsurprisingly, being fans of The Smiths and also living in Manchester, there are smatterings of references that would do Morrisey proud. Morrisey himself has enthused about Fray et al at any chance he could get. But the tone of St. Jude is distinctly more wry than wretched. I can't help but admire the chutzpah of a band that named their debut album, winner of the inaugural First British Album from the Guardian, after the patron saint of lost causes.
I was never consciously a fan of the band at the time but listening to St. Jude is an eerie experience, constantly recognising refrains that I swear must have accompanied countless soundtracks of the TV I was watching - which was a lot. St. Jude swells with the giddy guitars that characterised the indie rock of the period - which was a lot. So much so that it's often referred to as "indie landfill". Bland and wasteful. The louder, up-tempo offerings do veer towards this - you can practically see the Skins house party scene as they thump away - but what sets The Courteneers apart from their peers is the maturity and insight of their slower numbers. "How Come" is a remarkable song, calling out toxic masculinity before the term existed, whilst "Yesterday, Today & Probably Tomorrow", is a heart-wrenchingly endearing meditation on the real promises made in relationships.
The Courteneers didn't have to shout to make themselves heard. They did it so much better with their ballads. I'll be watching what Fray does next with keen interest. I wonder who his patron saint is now.