It’s been over seven years since a rock ‘n’ roll band from Glasgow burst so brilliantly onto the music scene with a combination of dirty guitars, infectious melodies and energetic live shows. The Fratellis were one the reasons why, for a brief period in the mid-noughties, Britain fell in love with ‘indie’ guitar bands.
However, as was the case with most of their contemporaries, The Fratellis’ explosive popularity proved short lived. The band’s 2008 follow up to their debut ‘Costello Music’ failed to match its critical and commercial success, and a three year hiatus left many fans wondering if they would ever hear Jon’s wonderfully rasping voice again, at least on a Fratellis record. And yet, one low-key reunion later here they are, back with the eagerly anticipated third album ‘We Need Medicine’.
Those who expected a departure from the fun-loving, high tempo rock ‘n’ roll style they are known for were, frankly, wrong. There is little on the album that screams ‘experimental’. For those who, like me, didn’t consider ‘Here We Stand’ a disappointment, you’re in luck; ‘We Need Medicine’ is closer in style and composition to the band’s second effort than to their debut. The record begins, however, at a pace comparable to both. Opener ‘Halloween Blues’ complete with frantic saxophone solo and ‘This Old Ghost Town’, first performed by Jon in a solo show during the band’s hiatus, give ‘We Need Medicine’ the instant injection of energy The Fratellis’ comeback deserves.
There are pockets of fret-board-brilliance to be found. Jon’s guitar solos on bluesy number ‘She’s Not Gone yet but She’s Leaving’ and ‘Jeannie Nitro’ in particular will leave the guitarists among you purring, or at the very least meowing with pleasure. Indeed ‘Jeannie Nitro’, with its undeniably catchy chorus, and for that matter, verses, is an obvious highlight. Equally deserving of praise is lead single ‘Seven Nights Seven Days’ which, despite its lively beat, smacks of desperation and despondency. A disheartened Fratelli sings ‘I see all of my dreams ragged and torn’. In a way the title track sums up The Fratellis’ musical ethos: not complicated, not serious, but unquestionably catchy and fun.
The closest the record comes to a divergence in style comes in the form of penultimate track ‘Rock N Roll Will Break Your Heart’. While this touching composition contains the same ‘50s ballad’ elements that can be found in previous works ‘Whistle For The Choir’ and ‘Babydoll’, the band lay down a more ambient instrumental backing over which Jon delivers the type of emotive vocal fans will have been aching for.
That is not to say that ‘We Need Medicine’ is without its faults. The Stones-esque ‘Shotgun Shoes’ starts with promise but fails to provide the chorus that would have prevented it from losing steam. A rousing key change followed by a pleasing outro does not succeed in hiding the disappointingly plain chorus in ‘This Is Not the End of the World’, while ‘Whisky Saga’ harks back to the band’s debut without resurrecting its high energy spark.
There are many, myself not included, who believe that The Fratellis need to rediscover whatever it was that made ‘Costello Music’ so instantly accessible and addictive. I believe that they are quite capable of reaching those dizzy heights again by looking forwards not backwards; by, dare I say it taking a leap into unknown, and potentially exciting, territory. If ‘We Need Medicine’ is the kind of album they are capable of making in the meantime, then fans will certainly not be complaining.
By Alex Orosa