Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Clandestine Classic XIV - What Took You So Long?

'What Took You So Long?' sleeve art

The fourteenth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I started writing this post again thinking that I'd show you I was down with the kids, showcasing a contemporary song by a contemporary artist. Then I realised the song is three years old already. At least the band in question are still going strong(ish). Whilst I can't claim that today's offering is by one of Manchester's finest (Manchester has produced a lot of amazing bands, after all), they are at least well clear of the metophorical relegation zone... today's clandestine classic is What Took You So Long?, a single from the summer of 2008 by The Courteeners.

In the initial hype-storm that surrounded their first album, the band attracted a lot of attention for being from Manchester and having a frontman by the name of Liam. This led to inevitable lazy (and inaccurate) Oasis comparisons. However, these were fortunately dismissed relatively quickly, and The Courteeners could be judged on their own merits. I bought their first album, St Jude, on the strength of a good review in a weekend broadsheet and an endorsement from Morrissey, no less. It's pretty good actually, with lots of quietly infectious, guitar-led chunks of indie rock. They have tunes! That said, the album was starting to fall out of my regular rotation by the time the band were due to play my adopted home-town. I bought a ticket anyway but must have been the only person to do so who wasn't subsequently notified when the gig was cancelled - I arrived at the venue to find a closed door with a piece of hastily-scrawled A4 sellotaped to it. Oh well. A year later, whilst on a business trip to Edinburgh, I saw that The Courteeners were playing The Picture House. I trooped along, hoping to pick up a ticket on the door, but they were all sold out. Gutted.

But not to worry. Although I kept missing them live, and had shelved the album, one song from St Jude was imprinted firmly in my brain. Why? For the unlikely reason that the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families) were running their 'Science and Maths' campaign, aimed at showcasing the interesting and exciting jobs those subjects could lead the youth of today to. They had a quite neat advert that was played to death at my local multiplex, and that advert was soundtracked by the distinctive intro and guitar line of What Took You So Long. You can see why - it's the da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA guitar line that hooks you in, completely and utterly. But there is more to the song than this - not only does it build in a way that compels your body to jump about, it's lyrically very snappy and is, quite possibly, the only song in the Western world to namecheck both Morrissey and Stagecoach buses. Not to be sniffed at. If this song was a film, it could be genre-pigeonholed as social realism or, more likely, kitchen sink drama. Witness those lyrics - "What took you so long? Was there a queue at the post office?" So yes, decidedly English too. These, in case you were wondering, are all good characteristics. Oh, and it's got a catchy, singalong chorus too.

As a single, I think today's classic peaked at number 20 and, as I've already said, you can also find it on the band's debut album. Alternatively, the unscrupulous among you might find something of interest here but you didn't hear that from me, okay? If you want to read more about The Courteeners you can do so at their Wikipedia page and, as ever, there's YouTube, where you can watch the DCSF ad or, like I did, find the original promo and tout it around (below). Enjoy.

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