Review: Martha- Courting Strong (Fortuna Pop, Salinas)

Posted: June 17, 2014 in Reviews

Courting Strong cover art

Hailing from Pity Me (one of the finest place names ever), in Durham, Martha play the sort of infectious, hook-laden pop-punk that is exactly what the scene is missing. Courting Strong, their first full length, lives up to all the expectations that the first couple of eps set. What was not so evident on those early releases was the ‘70s power-pop/ pop-punk influences running through Martha’s sound. But this is not simply hero worship. Courting Strong buzzes along to the same youthful, exuberant buzz-pop that The Buzzcocks and The Undertones perfected. However, do not expect a by-the-numbers pop-punk band here; there is a variety of song styles attempted here, highlighting Martha’s natural talent and vision. Indeed, from listening to Courting Strong, you kind of realise how difficult Martha are to pin down. Pop-punk-power-pop-indie-pop-buzz-pop with boy-girl vocal interchange, and probably more pop added for good measure. Compare the energetic, hook-filled brilliance of “1967, I Miss You, I’m Lonely” (probably the song of the year so far), with the Rush-borrowing, proper rock song “Move to Durham and Never Leave”, to the brilliantly-paced indie pop of “Dust, Juice, Bones and Hair”. Courting Strong is rarely dull, but also manages to be a coherent whole at the same time: a rare achievement in pop.

If nostalgia for generations past is perhaps evident in the music, it is definitely a key theme when delving through Martha’s lyrics for Courting Strong. But, this is not an exercise in wearing rose-tinted glasses; being Gaslight Anthem, or Summer of ’69. This is the interesting stuff: a real examination of oneself through the past. The quote by Carl Sagan comes to mind: “You have to know the past to understand the present”. The protagonist deals throughout with a sense of never quite belonging, most obviously summed up in the opener “Cosmic Misery”:

“They asked me how I came to be like this/So lonesome and so strange/I scoffed and pulled my cloak around my fragile, teenage frame/I never had a chance, this world was never meant for me/I put my faith in outer space/Cosmic Misery”

So yes, a lot of the content is emo in the most interesting sense of the term, but like the music, the lyrical content darts here and there, with the protagonist feeling romantic, sad and hopeful in equal measure. But more than all of that, Courting Strong has that old-fashioned charm and sense of humour (mixing Mange Tout up with Ménage-a-trois) of yesteryear that is missing in much of today’s sad bastard pop-punk. Granted, I enjoy a fair bit of said pop-punk, but this is refreshing: like a cheap can of fizzy pop, rather than a dirty pint of beer.


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