#alternateuniversealbum is a feature in which we get people to tell us which album they’d choose if they had to leave earth today and go to a new universe empty of our music. We ask them to tell us when they first heard this album, who they were then, who they are now and why the album continues to hold such great importance within their lives.
Courting Strong – Martha
School was weird, and by weird I mean a really hideous experience. If I was being really melodramatic, I would describe my time at sixth form as the worst two years of my life thus far.
Feeling weird and constantly uncomfortable in all school-related situations was the norm for seven years of my life. Refusing to wear fake tan or shave my legs until I was 14 (which now seems way too young anyway) meant I ‘grew up weird’ in the eyes of my peer-group. By year 11 I embraced being called a lesbian by 11 year olds because of my short haircut, and laughed, instead of getting upset, at the girls who moved away from me in the changing room because of my suspected lesbian tendencies.
If you’re the sort of person that this happens or has happened to in the past, you may think or have thought of yourself as ‘an outsider’ and that nobody is like you. You may take or have taken comfort in the knowledge that one day you will or would be better and more successful than these people. You may find or have found a group of friends who ‘get you’ and music that helps it all feel ok.
In Courting Strong, Durham indie-poppers Martha perfectly captured my teenage experience. I would shut myself in my room, put on Courting Strong and take comfort in the fact that I was not alone.
1997, Passing in the Hallway, for example, discusses teen crushes and dealing with these alongside the heavy burden of GCSEs and algebra homework. Now I really long for those days despite the shit I went through. The nostalgia that Martha manage to instill in this track is something that makes me feel warm and full of joy. Whenever I hear it, I’m desperate to fall in an all consuming teenage crush and to be back in a box pleated skirt and burgundy pullover.
The indie-pop quartet’s endless love for their hometown in Pity Me, Durham and Move to Durham and Never Leave also adds to the beautiful, teenage nostalgia the album evokes.
Combined with strong North East accents, these songs make me feel warm with longing for my teenage hometown – the latter referencing sitting on the steps of the only decent club in town (in Martha’s case, FishTank), getting drunk in a park and watching all of your friends move from home for something better.
This and the fact that Courting Strong tackles gender identity and roles meant that this album became so much more to me than just a list of songs. In Sleeping Beauty, siblings Naomi and Nathan sing to each other, wishing they could play with one another’s Wendy House and Spud Gun without being laughed at. In a song, Martha encapsulate how gutted I felt as a child when I wasn’t allowed to play with ‘boy’s toys’. Something to which I feel many non-heteronormative children lay victim.
The album closes on a poignant note with So Sad (So Sad), one of the only slow songs on the album. It gradually builds up into a rousing finale of ‘Please take me home, I think I might cry, I’m sad and I’ve no idea why’. It’s a universal line, something often unsaid but to which many of us can relate – and that’s the beauty of music like this, unspoken thoughts of yours can be realised in someone else’s.
Listen, it’s beautiful.
If, for some reason, I had to present an album to someone in an alternate universe, I would want to present them with something that captured what it was like for me and many other ‘weirdos’ growing up on earth. Something that would tell a listener that feeling weird is ok, gender norms screw people over, and obviously that being a teenager really fucking sucks.
That album for me is Courting Strong by Martha.
Rachel Earnshaw is a Psychology student at the University of Edinburgh. No, unfortunately, this does not mean that she can read your mind. All Rachel really wants in life is a perfect fringe, an endless supply of cinnamon rolls and a St. Bernard dog the size of her. She wishes her parents had named her Cathy, but isn’t too bothered about a Heathcliff.
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