The grower/shower dichotomy dominates many walks of life, music included. A good album will generally fall into one of two camps: those instant classics that rock your world from the word go, and those slow burners that gradually win your heart and take over your stereo.
Weirdly, Martha's Courting Strong somehow falls into both camps. I picked this album up because the ever-helpful 1p Album Club posted a rather enthusiastic tweet about it earlier this year; it cost me ten pounds, or thereabouts, and I stopped missing that money about halfway through 1997, Passing in the Hallway (i.e. track 2 of 10):
Verily, this was an immediate hit, and after just one spin, I was already texting my friend Cliffey to recommend that he check Courting Strong out for himself (Cliffey is a big Los Campesinos! fan, see, and I thought that Martha sounded like a Northern version of them). Sure, the sugar-rush riffs and wide-eyed melodies seemed kinda throwaway, but not every album needs staying power; this was a short, sharp burst of brilliance that was well worth the tenner, even if I probably wouldn't revisit it all that often after the first couple of weeks.
That was several months ago, and not only am I still listening to Courting Strong, I'd actually go so far as to say that it's my current favourite album. Martha, it seems, have stumbled upon a rare balance: the songs make their mark right away, but more importantly, that mark sticks around. Courting Strong is like the nightclub stamp that's nigh-impossible to wash off your hand, to the point that it's still visible enough to get you back in again the following week.
I still love 1997, Passing in the Hallway, but as is always the case with a good grower, my initial favourite has been overtaken by the songs that seemed a little bit 'meh' to begin with. Specific examples include titanic closing track So Sad (So Sad) and Gin and Listerine, which didn't do much for me back in August but now seems like the perfect 'three-quarters of the way through the album' track:
Oh, and these great tunes are matched by really, really great lyrics. There are loads of songs about being a misfit, but few hit as close to home as these, whether it's the gender anxiety of Sleeping Beauty or the "waaah all my friends are moving away and leaving me here alone" terror of Move to Durham and Never Leave (did I mention that Cliffey moved to Canada not long after I introduced him to this album?)
So yeah, well done Martha for managing this bizarrely brilliant balancing act. Most of my favourite albums did absolutely zilch for me when first I heard them.