To become the biggest band in Manchester, city of The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis, is no mean feat. In 2015 that prestigious honour went to Courteeners, that summer playing to their largest hometown crowd of 25,000 at Heaton Park before closing the year with a record breaking seven-night residency at the city’s O2 Apollo. “What those gigs gave us was an unassailable belief that people believe in this band,” says singer and songwriter Liam Fray. “After four albums it felt like a real vindication, as much for the fans who came along as for us as a band. It made us step back and think – hang on, we’re not finished yet. It was as if playing those shows gave us a new lease of life.”

This revitalised joie de vivre is self-evident on fifth album Mapping The Rendezvous, a record fizzing with infectious riffs, smart lyrics, giant choruses and the irrepressible energy of a band playing to their maximum strengths. Lyrically, its tales of kitchen-sink hedonism, hopeful romanticism and disappearing youth are a Jarvis-sharp reminder of why both Morrissey and Johnny Marr have praised Fray as such a worthy wordsmith: eleven tracks chasing the night towards dawn through love, chaos, friendship, dreams, regret and the lingering euphoria of “having such a good time”. “The album is a bit like a night out,” describes Fray. “A lot of the lyrics relate to adventures I’ve had, both in the past when I was younger and in recent times. Stories about people I’ve met, places I’ve been, old acquaintances and relationships.” 

Fray’s muse was first ignited by Sebastian Schipper’s award-winning 2015 film Victoria, the drama of a Spanish girl in Berlin whose night of drinking and clubbing ends in a bank robbery, all shot in a continuous camera take. “That film blew my mind,” Fray enthuses. “It’s a real assault on the senses and something about the atmosphere of it kick-started a lot of ideas for the songs. I’ve never had a night out go as badly as it does in the film, but the look and feel of it was definitely a massive inspiration.”

More direct influence came from Paris, the city where Fray and long-time Courteeners producer Joe Cross spent time writing and recording demos by day, exploring its bars and clubs by night. “I went to Paris to write our last album [2014’s Concrete Love], but this time I really got under the city’s nails, proper deep down and dirty. Obviously with everything that Paris has been through in recent times it’s a city on the edge right now. It was a strange time to be there. But I can't help but be sucked in by it. It does something to me that nowhere else does and I think that fed into the spirit of the music.” 

Started in Paris and finished between Manchester and Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios near Bath, by topographical contrast its riotous garage-glam opener Lucifer’s Dreams finds Fray “getting twisted” with the beautiful people of North London, tongue very firmly in cheek. "It's a bit of an in-joke. I've got friends who live in Stoke Newington; beautiful as it is, it feels like they think it's the centre of the universe. Still, it's good for a soiree every now and then." The tune’s party spirit spills over into the house-quaking beat of Kitchen, channelling Ian Dury and the Blockheads, the garage fuzz of early Kills and a timely homage to Prince “We were already working on it when we turned on the TV and saw the news,” recalls Fray. “So there’s a pre-chorus section which is our nod to Prince. We wanted to make that a real fun, party record.” 

The anthemic No-one Will Ever Replace Us is a soaring love song with its own festival wristband.
“This was written about finding love in the unlikely surroundings of Glastonbury. There’s almost an under-pinning fear about when you’ve got something so good, and you don’t want it to end. The line about ‘hamstrings on my shoulders” that’s when you’re with the person you love, lifting them high above every one else. That’s invincibility, right there.” De La Salle finds Fray back daydreaming at school, gentle strings and brass serenading an impressive lyrical cast of cameos including Jesus, Elvis, Joan Of Arc, Steve McQueen, and the Stockport suburb of Heaton Norris. Elsewhere, Fray documents the highs and lows of his romantic history, mourning the ones that got away on Finest Hour and the effervescent Tip-Toes and wearing his heart on his sleeve amidst the Twin Peaks twang of Most Important. “I think it’s when the big 3-0 creeps up on you,” he says. “Unquestionably, it makes you take stock and get a bit of perspective on where you’re going with your life.”

Between such wistful soul-searching, a hedonistic yearning for escapism continues to pulse through The Dilettante, the fuzzy stomp of Not For Tomorrow and the giddy Blondie-esque thrill of Modern Love, a song started in the hands of Manchester synth-pop duo Hurts before being adapted by Fray. “Without actually singing about it, I wanted to write something about the popularity trap of social media, people pretending they’ve thousands of friends and perfect lives. I hate all that because ultimately you only need a few friends and life isn’t perfect, is it? We've always been on the side of the fuck-ups. You should be allowed to be young and go out and make mistakes and fuck up and start again. It’s those scars that make people interesting.” 

As a farewell wave, or rather rave, to Paris, the album ends in the thumping dancefloor heat of The 17th. “That’s Paris and Victoria in one song,” says Fray. “The title refers to Paris’ 17th arrondissement and there’s a beautiful club scene in the film that I really wanted to recreate, sort of do a Courteeners twist on a big LCD Soundsystem type dance track. I loved the way we went about it; it was very unusual way of working for us, letting the music breathe and find its own space instead of trying to fill every second with hooks. And I’m so proud of how it turned out. I think it's up there with the best things we’ve done.” 

If after 2015’s glory gigs Courteeners looked set to jet off to brave, new destinations, Mapping The Rendezvous sees them arrive in style. Poetic latitude meets magical longitude of life-affirming pop. In 2016, you won’t find a better set of co-ordinates.