6 June, 2014 in Music Reviews
‘Courting Strong’ sees Martha trading in frenetic lovelorn pop that shows Pete Shelley to be punk’s most enduring songwriting influence
he Clash and the Sex Pistols may be the celebrated artists of punk’s canon. However it’s arguably the songwriting of Pete Shelley that bears the strongest influence upon today’s thrashing upstarts. With lovelorn lyrics, longing melodies and chord changes infused with rotten sugar, Durham four-piece Martha take the Buzzcocks blueprint and use it to aplomb.
\Cosmic Misery is a disarming opener. With a torque riff that could have slipped from the guitar case of Alex Turner, you could be forgiven for expecting the four to throw a selection of swaggering neo-punk chords into a bag and kick it between themselves. Thankfully this idea is quickly tossed into the river. It takes a mere 15 seconds before the band show themselves of a more mature punk persuasion and a further 15 for that persuasion to identify itself as being born of Manchester’s finest.
1997, Passing In The Hallway, quickly allows Martha to display one of their most potent weapons. With Naomi Griffin taking lead vocals the band’s dual approach is made apparent. Indeed the band’s vocal strength is such that all members sing at various points, all with a tone that make Martha’s musical attack all the more affecting.
Courting Strong is not though simply a multi-vocaled paean to The Buzzcocks. Like their excellent contemporaries Doe there’s a strong Superchunk influence, which is heard in tracks like Present, Tense and Bubble In My Bloodstream, the latter arriving at the Chapel Hill four piece via Sum 41’s breakout hit In Too Deep. Martha’s take on Superchunk’s furious indie-rock, though, is not quite of the same jaw clenching, teeth-mashing nature.
There’s also a jangle pop influence throughout their guitar synchronicity, with the yearning Gin And Listerine starting meekly, before turning into a union between The Popguns and McCarthy. Closer So Sad (So Sad) thumbs a more contemporary text for its reference, bearing a resemblance to Cymbals Eats Guitars’ superb …And The Hazy Sea.
1967, I Miss You, I’m Lonely, is the record’s recent single and it’s easy to see why. It’s the most immediately infectious of Courting Strong’s songs and is a perfect microcosm of what makes Martha so addictive. Martha’s pop appeal might not be as feverish as Joanna Gruesome, as arcane as The Wytches, as algid as Speedy Ortiz or as blanketing as Tyrannosaurus Dead, but their hooks dig deep into the bones.
There’s also an approachability about them; Martha perfectly encapsulate the essence of the loverlorn late teens and early twenties, when feelings are articulated in a manner that’s self-effacing, rather self-obsessive. This quality is seen in their lyrics and it’s these that really set them apart. Lines like, “You’re either living six months into the future/Or looking ten years into the past/You’re searching for answers/In tough circumstances/But I just need a moment that lasts” or the brilliant ‘I spent a dirty weekend practising my French/Rosy cheeked I saw my limitations there in evidence/When I invited Frank and you, back to mine for a mange tout/When I meant ménage à trois/You laughed so hard you cracked your chin against the bar’, rattle the teeth with laughter and bore tunnels deep into the chest, while displaying a grip of rhythmic structure that most would be unable to apply.
If Martha are Courting Strong then you’ll need less than 35 minutes before you’re ready to reciprocate. This is a debut LP that makes you pine for the times when these songs were written about you, rather than represented a blur of sentiment; or if you’re the age of our protagonists, then this is the record to clasp to your chest for 2014 and beyond.
Verdict: A superb debut of lovelorn pop punk