This summer, with the release of The Monkeys’ AM and Franz Ferdinand’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, we’ve seen how two of British guitar music’s powerhouses have adapted and modernised their respective sounds. You ain’t seen nothing yet: prepare yourself for the comeback of a third grand old indiestitution (fanfare) The Fratellis. It’s time to down that pint, shout along to some infectious riffs until you’ve got laryngitis, and generally jump around like a twat… or is it?
It’s fair to say the band have struggled since their mid-noughties heyday, the golden age of the skinny jean, a time when it was socially acceptable to publicly admit partiality to the Pigeon Detectives. Their first album, Costello Music, was a high-energy glam-rock tinged romp, all punchy chord progressions and heightened after-dark tales of pills and androgyny from the banks of the Clyde. It culminated in the production of the ultimate lad-chantalong, Chelsea Dagger. They emerged triumphantly from 2006 as the drinking man’s Libertines.
However, the reaction to their next offering, Here We Stand, was more muted. Despite their claims to be taking things in a thoughtful new direction, it rehashed their tried-and-tested formula of simple melody and rabble-rousing key changes in a way that, despite being fun at times, seemed a little ragged and tired two years on (refer to Mistress Mabel for a masterpiece in mid-tempo mediocrity). The boogie piano on A Heady Tale was one of the many examples of the band’s loveable energy and light-heartedness veering dangerously into camp theatricality. A standout lyric from Look Out Sunshine! seemed to perfectly encapsulate the album’s vibe: ‘Im a cynical c*nt and I’m far too lazy to change’.
The wounds of years spent wandering in the indie wilderness with only a stray Kook for company clearly still run deep; ‘I’m gonna make you love me!’ screams the first line of We Need Medicine’s opener, Halloween Blues, whose title and heavy bass riffs indicate an attempted movement towards an old-school rock n roll that runs through the album. You can’t help but feel that the band, despite a desire to be taken more seriously, can’t quite let go of the bouncy exuberance for which they were once revered; the recurrent guitar solos are counterbalanced by that old Fratelli classic, an exaggerated keyboard glissando, and the clappy introduction to Seven Nights, Seven Days is similarly nostalgic. One of the album’s best tracks, with a Whistle for the Choir-esque brand of light-hearted melancholy, it nonetheless suffers from the kind of overly slick production which is reminiscent of some less appealing Courteeners’ songs.
It quickly becomes clear that the Fratellis do not quite have the credibility or swagger to carry off bluesy tracks with names like The Whisky Saga and Rock n Roll Will Break Your Heart. For one thing, the slower tempo means you stop pogoing for a minute and hear quite how silly lyrics like ‘ You could buy me for a handful of dust/I’m so cheap that gypsies only deal with me when they must’ really are. The high point of the album for me is the sultry She’s Not Gone Yet But She’s Leaving, with more of the old glam-rock feel and the sing-a-long-ready refrain that the majority of the other songs work hard to escape from.
The success of Costello Music was dependent on its being very much of its time ; the principal failure of We Need Medicine is that it just doesn’t feel that relevant now.