Frank and Walters

JONNY REP and BALLINCOLLIG

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The suburb of Ballincollig, to the west of Cork city, is known to many because of John Spillane, the gentle Cork songwriter with a delicate hand who, on his 1996 album, ‘The Wells Of The World’, commemorated the village with two chords and a sting. ‘Johnny Don’t Go To Ballincollig’, he warned on that record’s very first line. ‘Where you always get disappointed’.

I’ve been making the ten-mile trip out from Cork city to Ballincollig, on and off, for the guts of forty years and I can’t say I’ve ever been really disappointed by it ;- not even during the frenzied New Year’s Eve I spent there fifteen years ago. But growing up in the middle of the city during the 1970s, Ballincollig may as well have been in Donegal ;- in the days long before ring roads and over-passes, it was simply out there somewhere, in the country. And yet that never stopped my mother from loyally making the journey once every season to visit her hairdresser – trading, with typical Cork notions as a ‘hair coiffeur’ – whose box-room premises were very definitely at odds with the outward ambition of the business and which were located towards the Ovens end of the main drag back.

And when we’d be outside in the car, impatient and restless, waiting for her perm to fully set, my father would turn to me and suggest that Ovens, a truly mad place down the road, was the most appropriate spot in Cork in which to locate a crematorium, if anyone were clued-in or daring enough.

The Cork-based promoter Denis Desmond –not to be confused with his more high-profile, hirsute and alpha namesake – launched a nationwide competition for school bands in 1989 and I regularly fetched up all over Munster to help out with the judging. It was a laudable and naïve under-taking, and certainly not something from which a coin was turned easily but, for me, it was a cost-effective way to catch the best and worst of what was going on inside some of Ireland’s most addled adolescent minds. And it was on this beat one Saturday afternoon that, in a musty old hall on The Crescent in Limerick city, that I first heard, and was quickly captivated by, the competition’s eventual winners :- The Hitchers. Their first single, ‘There’s A Bomb In That Basket Of Fruit’, was recorded as part of their prize for taking the spoils on a memorable final night in Connolly Hall in Cork in March, 1990.

During one of the competition’s earlier heats out in Ballincollig Community School the previous winter, the premises was put under siege by a group of tooled-up young toughs half-way through. After a couple of local goth bands struggled through their sets, the building was put into lockdown and the production crew was sped out of the village under Garda escort. I was back in The Long Valley on Winthrop Street in good time for last orders and had, for a change, a genuine story to impart to those in the upstairs bar. And in that story, the bands I toiled through earlier that evening were way less memorable than the cider-fuelled carry-on around the school grounds.

It was Denis Desmond who first turned me onto The Outside, a reluctant five-piece from Ballincollig with smart, poppy fingers and a keen touch who quickly became one of my favourite local bands during the late 1980s. The name captured them perfectly :- Francis Ford Copolla’s 1983 teen film, ‘The Outsiders’, betrayed their references while, in the same breath, summed up how they saw themselves, cut adrift in what was still a developing suburb away from the thrust and noise ten miles back along the road. I made a point of seeing The Outside whenever I could, most memorably in The Cork Opera House as part of a three-night showcase for new bands that Denis also ran, and where they were as good as they’d ever become. They picked up a couple of handy supports along the way too and I really thought they had genuine potential. They were a work in progress, of course, but their canny pop songs displayed a real grasp of the fundamentals and hinted at a frame of reference broad enough to keep them interesting and arresting. And I was sorry to see them pack it in so shortly afterwards ;- another band poisoned forever by the public shift of death I’d given them.

Some of their number fetched-up thereafter in a handful of other, more boisterous guitar bands – Semi, Fred -before eventually putting down roots as LMNO Pelican, who deviated from the family line and were a dirtier, slightly more skewed indie concern. The Pelicans became a prominent adjunct on the comet ridden by both The Frank And Walters and The Sultans Of Ping during the stellar period between 1990 and 1995 but may have been unfairly lost in the supervoid that briefly surrounded it. I’ve written previously about the band’s spiritual leader and pulse, it’s late drummer, Brendan Butler, and it was because of him– and his overwhelmingly positive view of life and music – that myself and Mick Finnegan, one of the many unheralded figures at the heart of Cork’s music scene from post-punk onwards – ended up together on the producer’s settee when LMNO Pelican entered Elm Tree Studios on Cork’s Mardyke in 1993 to record their second E.P.


They’d already made a considerable dent with their debut, the excellent four-tracker, ‘Boutros Boutros’, from which ‘Call Yossarian’ – in the spirit of the feistier Dublin guitar bands from a decade previously, The Slowest Clock in particular – was a particular stand-out and a signal of real intent.

For years afterwards I wondered if Mick and myself just made a proper hames of the follow-up and that, far from enhancing the band’s sound, had actually sucked the spirit from them ? But ‘Red Dot’ E.P. still means the world to me :- I certainly knew what we wanted to do on those four songs even if, to this day, I’m still not entirely sure where most of the bottom end went during the mixdown ? There are some terrific flicks, hooks and licks on that record, many of them provided by Fergus [Gus] Keane, the Pelican’s ace guitarist who, even then, was already an honours graduate of the Tom Verlaine/Graham Coxon school of icing. And I’ll still pull that record from the racks the odd time and get a rare thrill from ‘Wangley Dan’ and ‘Chalkey Gods’, recalling a terrific couple of weeks during which we panel-beat the record into shape and laid it down, plotting the harmony lines, adding cello parts and working up the shapes as we went.


The core of that band – Pats, Fergus and Derry – can be found these days scaffolding Jonny Rep, the best constituent parts of The Outside, Semi and The Pelicans compounded, basically, and then lacquered with an urgent, riffy finish. These days they’re joined in the vanguard by a pair of strays from two other prominent Cork outfits, Niall Lynch from The Shanks and Dave Senior from Rulers of The Planet and, dragging it all together from behind the mixing desk, Ciaran O’Shea who, with his brother, Declan, founded and led the ambitious [and very noisy] Cyclefly who, for a spell, briefly threatened a serious international breakthrough fifteen or so years back. From his Whitewell Studio, outside of Cloyne in East Cork, Ciaran certainly knows how to create a formidable wall of guitar sound [and where to locate the bottom end] and Jonny Rep’s records sound absolutely vast. For the sake of easy reference, they’re like an indie Traveling Wilburys trading Ride-style blows on every single line.

I hadn’t heard from them for years until, out of the blue, they posted up Jonny Rep’s excellent and frightfully under-rated debut album, which was released back in 2010. And the tidy hand-written note that accompanied it – not begging favours, just bearing best wishes – is typical of how they’ve always conducted themselves. I was delighted to hear from them and even more excited to hear that they were all still at it, decades later, and with the same sort of zest they had back when they were younger, leaner and dreamier. Maybe it’s just another aspect of the cycle of life manifesting itself but there’s something keenly reassuring about friends sticking the distance through the decades, refuelling at various points in the road, driving on, with music to keep them in good spirits and to occupy their conversations.


These days, they tell me, they might get together in the rehearsal room whenever the mood takes them, no pressure, and riff it out until they’ve made a forward stride or two. They may make another record down the line or they may not. They may play an odd live show, they may undertake a short tour, who knows ? But what’s clear is that the twin spectres of disappointment and failure that overhang all bands of a certain age have, in this case, long given way to perspective and priority. It’s a freedom that’s evident in the music :- Jonny Rep have never sounded stronger, more cohesive or better.

Today, the band formally releases it’s second album, ‘Cold Sunbeam’, even if none of us are entirely sure what a formal release actually means anymore beyond, one suggests, a line in a Google group calendar. Yes, there’ve been a couple of positive notices, a steady increase in airplay, the odd radio appearance and a couple of soft pieces in the local papers but beyond that, one suspects, it’s more about a quiet, singular satisfaction at just squaring something special away, boxed off. And, once again it’s a very physical, confident record that, over the course of it’s nine formidable tracks, flouts it’s influences like it
detonates it’s riffs ;- early, often and to real effect. Added marks to, of course, to any band that references one of Blackpool’s most historic industrial landmarks in it’s album title.

Maintaining a long link – especially strong in Cork circles – between the indie set and football, the band is named to within a missing letter ‘h’ after the mercurial Dutch winger [is there any other kind ?] who played in – and lost – two World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978. Johnny Rep is another in that far-reaching line of footballers who played as fast and loose off the pitch as he did on it even if he is still, to his credit, one of the few players to have admitted to taking amphetamines during a career that was also pock-marked by a battle with booze.

In a curious reversal of stereotype, I can’t imagine Jonny Rep breaking out the whizz in the rehearsal room anytime soon in order to gain a sly competitive edge on an unsuspecting opposition. And they’ve also come far enough and through enough to know that ‘Cold Sunbeam’ won’t get them gold-plated status at Mar-A-Lago. But there comes a point when gentle genius lies in the most obvious and simple things :- like respecting life in the slow lane. And Jonny Rep have that in spades.

‘Cold Sunbeam’ is released today, February 24th, 2017, on Jonny Rep’s own label, Wangley Dan Records, and comes highly recommended.

TRASHCAN SINATRAS LIVE IN DUBLIN, NOVEMBER 12TH, 2016

Trashcan Sinatras have long operated at their own pace and under their own steam and are clearly reaping the benefits ;- the band members don’t appear to age and neither, clearly, do their songs. Unlike, on both counts, most of the almost exclusively male crowd that’s loyally and noisily assembled here to see their first Dublin show in almost a decade in a venue that, appropriately enough, was once a social refuge for thirsty workers. And judging by the spreads, stubbles, spectacles and slap-heads that sprinkle the bar-area at The Workman’s Club, The Trashcans have certainly gotten their core vote out ;- the turnout here goes unstintingly back the decades with them. Back to when their name also included a definite article, back to when their music was regarded widely as a defining article.

Quite how and why Trashcan Sinatras continue to endure – perpetually on the fringes, forever over-looked, consistently excellent – is their own business alone, but it’s a business for which those here tonight will be forever grateful. Part of me suspects that it’s now reached the stage where, after six compelling studio albums, they keep on keeping on simply because they can, just about. And that, almost thirty years after they first emerged from Irvine in The Smiths’ slipstream, with the smart cut-and-thrust of a young Aztec Camera – and with all the expectation associated – they’re just too far gone now for turning. Which also seems to be the case among their audiences, from whom a giddy delirium is blood-rushed once again tonight, up off of the wooden floors and deep into the neck of the elevated rostrum beyond. And there’s your connection :- everyone here has not only a story but a scream and a Trashcans yarn too. I’ve long bored my own friends and family rigid with the usual old jaw about majesty and the vagaries of the music market, proselytising. But I’ll continue to do so as long as the band keeps putting it’s best feet forward and, if that now means once every six or seven years, then so be it.

So tonight is far less a one-night stand, then, and way more of a real occasion. To which folk have travelled from all parts, as is discernible from the many high-octane conversations around the venue before and especially after the show and also by the interventions from the floor at intervals during the band’s set. That proclaim, as lovingly as they do invariably, the band’s genius and which, for a change, fall not on deaf ears but on those which may be moderately-functioning, aided and otherwise. Around the sides and in the alcoves, I’m certain I recognise a couple of heads from way back while, scattered around the back of what is one of Dublin’s most welcoming live music venues, a coterie of old-hands can recall and recite, from memory, the minutiae of the band’s first two albums, ‘Cake’ and the irrepressible ‘I’ve Seen Everything’, around which were sown the first drills of unstinting loyalty.

But while the band is in town to ostensibly promote it’s recent album release, ‘Wild Pendulum’ – constituency work, we can call it – there’s a sense here too that the day-to-day process and routine that defines so many jobbing bands just isn’t really relevant in this case. Trashcan Sinatras have been playing to the converted for far too long now – it’s been years since their audiences became so selective – so that, without pressure or prejudice, they can simply rock up, plug-in and drive-on, just keeping the home fires on the burn. Because all anyone is really seeking tonight is validation and assurance ;- that sense that, with The Trashcans still around, all can be well, however fleetingly.

And, as has been the case on those numerous occasions over the years, they just effortlessly and instinctively deliver. Because while their last two albums are certainly more layered and require more attention than those that went previously, their canon is so wide and magnificent that, over the course of any random twenty-song set, it’s just impossible for them to really put a single hair out of place. Dipping as far back as the their 1990 debut single, ‘Obscurity Knocks’, with it’s magnetic indie swagger, through the middle-order magic of ‘I’ve Seen Everything’,‘Weightlifting’ and ‘The Genius I Was’ to the more recent, post-graduate hand-craft of ‘Wild Pendulum’ – especially the royal flush of ‘All Night’, ‘Best Days On Earth’ and ‘Ain’t That Something’ – there is, as ever, something wildly consoling about The Trashcans and how they go about their work. In a year that’s been pock-marked by loss, in a week in which Cohen was lost over-board and Trump came home, there’s hope in the little things yet.

The terrific local singer and writer, Carol Keogh [Plague Monkeys, Tycho Brahe, Automata], is another long-time fan of the band and joins them to augment ‘Send For Henny’ and ‘What’s Inside The Box’, during which she manages the near impossible ;- elevates a magnificent band to even further heights. And just to connect all of the dots, Frank Duff of The Blue Brass lends a Tijuana trumpet feel to ‘All Night’ and ‘I’ve Seen Everything’ ;- the last time three different Franks were seen on the same stage together in this part of the world was when ‘After All’ and ‘This Is Not A Song’ were the pop songs du jour and The Trashcans and The Frank and Walters were mates on a major record label.

As is traditional now, the extent and breadth of the band’s back catalogue dictates many of the post-mortems around the venue afterwards, with as much talk about those songs that went un-wrapped as those that they played. A short cameo for ‘Iceberg’ but no ‘Earlies’. ‘How Can I Apply’ but no sign of ‘I’ll Get Them In’, and so on. No ‘Wild Mountainside’. No ‘I See The Moon’. It’s what happens, I guess, when a surfeit of gold from the hills meets the limits of an early curfew.

On the way out, one of our number encountered The Trashcans’ guitarist John Douglas at the front door of the venue. He’d thoroughly enjoyed the show, loved The Workman’s and would certainly have hung around except that, with a ferry to catch at 6AM and a show the following evening in London, the band was beating an early retreat. Immediately next door, The Clarence Hotel, co-owned by members of U2 and a monument to their standing as one of rock music’s most successful concerns, both critically and financially, is still bustling and busy ;- punters, guests and revellers mill about the building and around the entrance to the trendy liquor bar beneath it.

And its against this backdrop that The Trashcans slowly lug their own gear into a back-alley in inner Dublin, in the dead of a cold Autumn night, onwards.

BRILLIANT TREES LIVE IN DUBLIN, 2016

 

Twenty years ago, when Brilliant Trees were hot to trot, good to go and had just released their formidable debut album, ‘Friday Night’, Dublin were reigning All-Ireland senior football champions and Charlie Redmond, of Erin’s Isle and East Finglas, finally had his just reward. If Jason Sherlock had taken the sport by the throat with a drop of his callow shoulder, a tearaway’s slalom and a poacher’s eye to become Gaelic football’s most sellable asset, Redmond was Dublin’s battle-worn pillager, a rounded foil to the swagger of youth, the static in the flow.

 

They celebrated that 1995 All-Ireland win long and hard out in West Dublin. The Erin’s Isle club, located in deepest Finglas, also provided Mick Deegan and Keith Barr to the spine of that side ;- like Redmond, they were, as you’d expect, cut from durable stuff, seldom beaten. And so it’s apt that, on a night when the city centre is as vibrant as I’ve ever seen it on the eve of an All-Ireland final – and during another period marked by the dominance of a Dublin side playing cavalier football  – that Brilliant Trees have re-marshalled their forces and, as they used to do routinely over the years, taken over a small part of town. Theirs has always been a loud and partisan travelling support and, years since they last assembled so formally anywhere, they’re in from the suburbs and out once again in numbers tonight.

 

I’ve written previously about Brilliant Trees and about how, never too showy or overly complicated, they were such a consistent, classy and, in their own way, unusual presence around a scene that burst into life in Ireland’s regions after the World Cup in 1990 and that soon caught fire elsewhere. Physically lean, politically sussed and as principled as would allow, Brilliant Trees weren’t at all out of place on the Cork Rock bill at Sir Henry’s in 1991 where they shared a standing with the likes of The Frank And Walters, The Cranberries, Therapy?, Toasted Heretic, The I.R.S., Lir and The Sultans of Ping. And while it possibly took them longer to find their sea-legs and to realise the full range of their gift, their two albums, 1996’s ‘Friday Night’ and 2000’s ‘Wake Up And Dream’, rank as two of the purest – if slow-burning – Irish pop records of the period. Even if, in keeping with much of the rest of their story, they rarely feature in histories and lists, even those compiled in – and about – their own backyards.

 

Throughout their various exiles, I always felt that The Trees had plenty of business left unfinished and much left unsaid. In direct knock-out, the scoring systems just didn’t suit their style which, casually and at times naively, blended orthodox with southpaw. Many other, far lesser contenders from that period seemed to just glide the canvas a bit easier, skipping in and out of trouble, cross-punching a bit more readily. And there’s only so far and so wide a positive outward face will stretch when it dawns that the music industry is far more about the vagaries and the unreliability of the industry and far less about the regular detonation of the music. So little wonder then that, after one pointless blow-to- the- head too many, Brilliant Trees, however reluctantly, heeded the pleading from their corner and, heads bowed, walked away from the ring.

 

 

On the not inconsiderable matter of winning and winners, you’ll often hear sports psychologists mention how some of the most remarkable victors from across all walks of life are often utterly unknown. About how, away from the numbers and the footlights, personal victories are routinely achieved in all sorts of conditions and against all manner of difficulty, often determined by exceptional individual circumstance. And so, simply by walking on and out in front of a sold-out Grand Social crowd, comprised largely of the familiar faces of long-time friends, acquaintances and ultras, Brilliant Trees have already nailed it. With a meaty set pulled largely from the two albums and popped at the turn by a track or two from a new, forthcoming record, they sound as familiar, welcome and warm as they did during their first flush. Augmented by a steel rod in their backbone – Dave Morrissey on keys, Tony Brerton on drums and, for a magical fifteen minutes in the middle order, Ciarán Kavanagh on guitar – it’s re-assuring to see them with real weight on. While Alan, Tony and Sid look as lean and as fit as they did in their early publicity shots from decades ago, their sound, as you’d maybe expect, has wintered well, way more full-bodied.  Musically, they’re packing a middle-aged spread and they’re looking terrific on it.

 

From the reluctant shuffle of the opener, ‘Like You A Lot, Love You A Little’ to the down-beat closer, ‘Home’, and in around the familiar, powerful verges of a canon in which  ‘Take Me Away’, ‘Talent’, ‘Let It All Go’, ‘Heartstrings’, ‘Who Hurts Most’ and ‘In Your Dreams’ sound Especially ageless, The Trees know that now, definitively, they can park their anxieties. There was a time tonight when, with Ciarán adding a third guitar, they replicated the current Trash Can Sinatras line-up in tone and style as well as in physical heft. And while the more direct, less subtle end of the catalogue nods to far more familiar influences – The Smiths, Ride, Blur – the current single, ‘I Know, I Know’ is in far less of a hurry and, smooth and unforced, suggests that, what’s coming down the line could yet be the most beguiling phase of of what’s been a long and colourful journey.

 

 

And so, more confidently on their own terms than ever previously, Brilliant Trees are back. But for how long and for how far, who knows ? And does it matter ? No. The forthcoming record will maintain their momentum and give them a fresh wind, for sure. But tonight its enough to simply see them go for it so instinctively, taking the first, nervy step back out onto the dancefloor. Re-born, renewed.

 

 

CRYSTAL, FROM CORK

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Picture courtesy Siobhan O’Mahony

 

Crystal were one of Alan Murphy’s outfits, in essence a more formed and focused version of his previous band, The How And Why Insects, with his girlfriend, Lisa, added on vocals and Kieran Curtin replacing Anthony Murray on guitar. They were one of a number of bands from the Turner’s Cross/Capwell/Glasheen Road side of Cork City, via Coláiste Chriost Rí, but who, drummer Keri Jones apart, had little else in common with their peers, notably Censored Vision and Serengeti Long Walk.

With Brian Quigley [bass] completing the line-up, they were easily the most academically qualified band to emerge in Cork as the eighties ground to a close. But they were keen students of classic and alternative sounds too ;- Alan, especially, had a far-ranging frame of reference that stretched back to the classics and forward into the contemporary margins. And, once Lisa integrated more fully into the line-up, Crystal developed a sinewy – but no less sparkly – guitar-pop sound. So much to that, for a while, I genuinely thought they had enough about them to really kiss the sun.

But they never received the credit their ambition warranted, especially around Cork, and their live shows were often pock-marked by poor sound and indifference from audiences. But Crystal, with a rich depth of field, a real attitude about them, and swarthy good looks, were well able to hold their own in any company and, for a number of years were prominent, but never over-bearingly so, on the local circuit.

Some of the band later embarked, inevitably enough, onto careers in full-time academica, after which Alan and Lisa re-grouped, re-charged and re-modelled themselves as Starchild, a far more ambient and considered outlet for Murphy’s songs.

But not before, in August, 1991, I gave them this review in Melody Maker magazine, capturing them at their peak, live in The Shelter on Tuckey Street. At the time, Tuam band The Sawdoctors and raggle-taggle period Waterboys dominated the general conversation but, lurking beneath them, a fresh wave of excellent, alternative regional acts had taken their starter’s orders and already had the mainstream squarely in their cross-hairs. And with Crystal among them, I thought.

And so, with the game on, I stepped out to bat and, not for the first or the last time, gave a decent, emerging band, the kiss of death.

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Picture courtesy of Siobhan O’Mahony

Crystal, (The Shelter, Cork)

Crystal are a million miles away from raggle-taggle and they couldn’t care less for sub-generic jangle guitar pop. Mention The Sawdoctors to them and, like Woody Allen on love and life, they’ll internalise. Grow tumours. They’re resolutely hip. Essential. And they’re completely un-Irish, rather like Toasted Heretic and Therapy? and The Cranberries and The Frank And Walters, I guess.

Crystal are indie-kids with style and attitude and looks. They’ve missed all of ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, and the repeats too, because they’ve been too busy listening to My Bloody Valentine and R.E.M. and The Who. They’ve just fallen for ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Revolver’ and ‘Rubber Soul’ and they make some of the most beautiful noise-pop in, well, months.

Tonight in this wonderful little pop hut, Crystal are like a whale out of water. Their comic-culture upbringing, their style, their attitude, their complete disdain for anything remotely linked to Irish pop actually confuses tonight’s pop kids. Songs like ‘Forbidden’ and ‘Touch The Sky’ are murmur-pop songs that we can actually hear. And hum. And remember tomorrow. And then there are three-minute rant-and-rave pop songs like the perfectly-formed ‘Too Late’ and the head-spinning,body-line bounce of ‘Free’.

There’s Lisa’s voice ;- a travelling companion in first class for Dolores Cranberries’. There’s her looks. There’s Brian’s top-heavy bass guitar and a drummer on loan from Anthrax. It’s a confusing little bag. Like Fatima Mansions, if you like.

Crystal might well be a product of their environment, but that patch is well away from here. That is where they’ll stand or fall. The only certainly is that, like My Bloody Valentine, they’ll never be seen as an Irish band. Because they’re not.

 

SONGS FOR THE WALKING WOUNDED

 

The evolution has been gradual and not without its difficulties and now, you’d think, it’s complete. It’s been almost twenty-five years from ‘this is not a song about politics’ to ‘this is a song for all the broken and the walking wounded, for all the isolated and secluded’ and, in the decades since, The Frank And Walters have slowly gravitated in from the margins and the grassy verges. And, along the way, they’ve put one of their most potent weapons beyond use.

As Ken Sweeney – a former label-mate of theirs at Setanta Records – pointed out recently on Tom Dunne’s radio show on Newstalk, there was a time when every big Frank And Walters statement ended with an inevitable assault. When, in the best traditions of the Irish showbands and the kids in The Bowery, they sent every listener home in a sweat ;- it wasn’t a real show or a proper album if it didn’t climax in a torrent of the loud and the furious. Or if Paul Linehan didn’t stretch his voice to far beyond the point of breaking.

I’ve remarked before how, during the band’s first flushes, Niall Linehan the group’s original guitarist – often played his instrument as if he was attacking it with a breeze-block. Yes, he had plenty of finesse coursing through his fingers too but, when the going got hard and heavy, he could match the best of them for speed and squall. But the familiar frenzies that have consistently hall-marked many of The Franks’ staples are missing from ‘Songs For The Walking Wounded’, the band’s recently released seventh studio album, it’s most sombre and easily it’s best and most full-bodied since ‘The Grand Parade’.

I’ve been unable to view The Franks from any sort of critical distance for years now, and I’ve dealt with that in a couple of previous posts, which are available to read here and here. But I still get the same thrill about every new Franks song now as I did when our paths first crossed in Cork over a quarter of a century ago and, I suspect, I always will. Over that time I’ve watched them – from exile, for the most part – become far more confident in their own ability and far more self-sufficient in how they realise the ambitions they’ve set since. And so ‘Songs For The Walking Wounded’ is exactly that, with the band in introspective and reflective form on what is clearly their most considered and mature record to date. A curious tension runs through it from the get-go and, in every sense – and in every key scene – it’s a revelation.

Rather than move out of the parish entirely, The Franks have used the three years since ‘Greenwich Mean Time’ to finish a considerable home renovation instead. The glass and chrome surround is new but, inside it, the old structures are as sound as they’ve ever been. In keeping more with the make-over spirit of ‘Room To Improve’ than the [funda]mental engineering challenge of ‘Grand Designs’, they’ve carefully replaced the plumbing and the electrics but have resisted the urge to dismantle the kitchen sink. Indeed restraint, in multiple forms, is a recurring theme here ;- and for all of the marvellous string arrangements and the smart production twists, this is still a record in check. And no more so than on the gorgeous guitar break on the lead single, ‘We Are The Young Men’, which owes far more to Depeche Mode’s ‘Music For The Masses’ than it does to ‘Kennedy’ or ‘Brassneck’. Indeed guitarist Rory Murphy’s influence on this record is enormous ;- nimble, sharp and comfortable across a huge span of styles, he is, alongside Conor Lehane, Midleton’s greatest ever gift to Cork’s broader cause.

There was a time when, in times of doubt, The Franks reached for what they trusted most and when they rarely ventured beyond the constraints and conventions of that which made them ;- indie guitars. This time around, the influences and the shadows stretch far wider ;- two of the more dominant references on ‘Songs For The Walking Wounded’ are the layered American FM sound of The Cars and the fragile sensibility of ‘Heartworm’, the exceptional 1995 album by Dublin band, Whipping Boy. But while the album magpies liberally, it is still as identifiably a Franks record as any and the soft references to an assortment of characters – Jodie, Brice, Tinkerbelle and Rosie – are among the more familiar tricks from their bag. But it’s Paul Linehan’s imperious vocal form throughout that really brings the record back home.

The grenades go off early and often. Cillian Murphy’s spoken passage on the excellent ‘Stages’ sees the Cork-born actor channel Whipping Boy’s Fearghal McKee over a riff that borrows from Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ and, placed immediately on the track-listing after the boisterous lead, ‘We Are The Young Men’, opens the order with real heft. ‘Circumstance’ also nods to Whipping Boy, and particularly to ‘Personality’ and ‘Users’, two of the lesser-referenced tracks on  ‘Heartworm’. But there’s plenty more to occupy the anoraks ;- the hall-mark keyboard sounds of A-ha and Joy Division primary among them. Credit here to producer and engineer Cormac O’Connor, who alicadoos will remember as one of the principals behind Benny’s Head, a Cork-based outfit who rarely chanced their velveteen pop sounds outside of the security of the studio walls.

There’s even a trippy Beatles/Pink Floyd diversion towards the end of the disconcerting ‘Father’ – a possible companion piece to Little Green Cars’ ‘Brother’ ? – and, when you think you’ve heard it all, The Franks evoke the ghost of Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go To My Lovely’ on ‘Riviera’, replete with cutesy, Parisienne-style female vocals. Set up by a terrific, rumbling arrangement, the wordless chorus comes out of the curve :- it’s one of their least obvious songs ever, as good as anything they’ve committed to tape.

And after ten sharp, snappy pop songs, The Franks are gone ;- no hanging around, no filler. Like Cork’s hurlers, they’ll always be there and, irrespective of how they’re viewed outside of the county, their history alone means they’re always capable of an upset. At their most lethal when the chips are down and when they’re in the long grass, come the All-Stars awards at the end of the year, The Franks will be there or thereabouts.