The British coast has had it’s fair share of ridicule. Take indie demigod Morrissey, for example, denouncing “the seaside town that they forgot to bomb”, and that inescapable, grotesque image – the grotty pavement that kids are running riot over, heading for the nearest carousel – that never fails to contaminate your head when you hear: “Let’s go to the seaside”. A clichéd, monotonous, dull fest that is somewhat depressing and oh-so-Britain. Yet, looming over the Northern horizon, a seaside town is becoming cool again: Morecambe-born, Manchester-bred four-piece The Heartbreaks have arose.
Their long-awaited debut – the aptly titled Funtimes – is brimming with delicately crafted jangle-pop pieces, where the highs are soaring and the lows are few and far between to say the least. The record’s influences are burrowed deep into quintessential Britishness, from ’80s bubblegum post-punk to ’90s britpop (no, not the laddish anti-intellectualism of Oasis, think more the gleefully kitsch romantic fervour of Suede), bringing a somewhat uniquely nostalgic ode – but distinctly northern wryness – to such inspirations throughout. Take the slick-slidey, Johnny Marr-esque riffing, Matthew Whitehouse’s upside-down Morrisey-induced swooning, or the Orange Juice-ish eccentricities of Joseph Kondras’ bittersweet, kitchen-sink romanticist lyrics. Tristan Ivemy’s production – given support by Orange Juice frontman Edwyn Collins on ‘Remorseful’ – is tight and punchy, heavily indebted to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, with plenty of hooks and a positively soulful backing vocalist vibe that recalls the shimmer and echo of northern soul and ’60s Motown girl groups – apparently a key component for everything #newpop. Playing around with their own seaside-fuelled idealism and each member’s eclectic music taste, The Heartbreaks create a melodic hybrid of what pop should really sound like.
Opening with a Smiths reference of the rain falling down on a humdrum town – “the rainfall in Morecambe embitters me” – The Heartbreaks exorcise the melancholy from their beloved Morecambe with the charmingly upbeat ‘Liar, My Dear’, before castigating the grim northern weather for fucking up Whitehouse’s heartthrob hair and stinging his chiseled cheekbones. This number sets the tone for the album, introducing the jovial jangle-based driving guitar lines, sticky basslines and pounding drums that buoyantly seep into all of the efforts in all shapes and sizes, and not without inevitably showcasing a debonair flair for dealing with heartbreak in the best way: literature (Billy Liar!). It’s followed up by the ridiculously infectious lead single, ‘Delay, Delay’ (yes, they are very fond of commas – and no, they are not Vampire Weekend, they are better. Possibly), of which has a ridiculously catchy chorus and displays some more damn fine poppy vocals over the intense guitar melodies that other indie posses would literally pine for. Seriously, that’s what sets them a class apart from most of their contemporaries: they actually have the tunes, craft and – most importantly – their own signature sound that supports their brazen but just claims of potentially being the next best British band. They embrace our beloved British culture, unironically, and are all the better for it.
In ‘Polly’, one of the few new compositions (a lack of new material being one particularly small gripe with Funtimes), lies a desolate gem that illustrates the eloquent storytelling ability Kondras has unearthed in his artillery, rivalling the likes of Sheffield counterparts, The Crookes, and perhaps their collective idol, Morrissey. And if you’re not at least humming to the cheerleader-esque chorus after the first listen, something is simply missing. Or you have the lowest earworm threshold known to man.
Kondras delves into another tale of unrequited love about the boy that doesn’t get the girl in ‘Winter Gardens’: a bittersweet lyrical voyage of fossilized melancholy and youthful romantics (what else would you expect from a band called The Heartbreaks, though?) that’s emphatically overlaid sonically by something resembling a Leviathan of Sound, never mind a wall. Nonetheless, Whitehouse’s superlative, oscillating vocals soar above it, emotively yearning for a lost lover, which, frankly, you’d need a heart of steel to reject.
The stunningly atmospheric and cruelly ignored surefire hit ‘Jealous, Don’t You Know’, meanwhile, lifts a line of self-deprecation verbatim from Orange Juice’s ‘Consolation Prize’, interestingly bemoaning being too effeminate to warrant affection and continuing every good musicians’ ongoing love affair with androgyny. It’s essentially another sharp jolt – with an energetic jangle here, “dancing like a schoolboy” there (‘Hand on Heart’), and irresistible pieces of northern, seaside town poetry everywhere – caught in the midst of the angsty thunderstorm that is Funtimes. And, while it may at times be an all-too-familiar British thunderstorm of excessively borrowed material, there’s just enough here on this commendably strong debut to suggest that this band have the potential to keep on rising. If you like pop the way it’s suppose to be – replete with tales of tragic romances and an irrepressible sense of vivacity – you will like The Heartbreaks. Don’t just save their souls, save the seaside and buy this album immediately.
Funtimes is everything the title suggests – a contagious collection of breathless jingly-jangly youthful anthems that oozes pure poppy fun above all else.