Back in 2006, Glasgow indie rockers The Fratellis hoped to launch off the back of The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys into a new British Invasion for the early 2000s. Their great hope was Costello Music, released to much acclaim in their home country (it won the 2007 BRIT award for Best British Breakthrough Act and reached no. 2 in the charts), but it didn’t quite cause the ruckus across the pond that was clearly expected, although “Flathead” was a minor hit in the States. It was a collection of rowdy drinking tunes, topped off with massive guitar crunch. The hit single “Chelsea Dagger” is still inescapable on most nights out in the UK. It had a chorus seemingly custom-made to be drunkenly slurred at top volume, with a full pint of beer in each hand. But the album as a whole was also tuneful and unashamedly, endearingly influenced by 60s pop bands, and it was attractive enough for this particular Brit to remember it fondly 12 years later.
And it still sounds good. “Henrietta”, “Flathead”, “For the Girl”, and “Baby Fratelli” get the heart pumping to this day. Plus, though “Chelsea Dagger” may have paled with age and overexposure, I’m still entertained by the band’s chutzpah when I stick it on. And that goes double for songs called “Cuntry Boys & City Girls” and “Got Ma Nuts From a Hippie” (yep, really). The whole album is the sound of youth on fire with a hell of a lot more ideas and energy than wit.
I lost track of them after Costello Music, after they released several albums that barely merited one listen, diminishing returns that signposted them as a flash-in-the-pan sort of band.
And yet here’s In Your Own Sweet Time. Which I expected little of at first. But several listens in have taught me to enjoy it more than any Fratellis album since their debut. It starts full throttle with what sounds like a Scissor Sisters imitation, a catchy little number with a bad joke title (“Stand Up Tragedy”). And it speeds on through to a 7-minute denouement with a plain bad title (“I Am That”). All without ever dragging – even during the 7-minute denouement!
These chaps are hardly saints, even as they get older. So as you whizz on through these numbers, you’ll have to forgive a lot of daft macho posturing, which you might have thought had died out in rock n’ roll long ago. Jon Fratelli seems only capable of writing from the point of view of a horny teenager, and what’s worse, one who can’t comprehend women: “Do me right and do me wrong/Give it up, give it up” he instructs one lucky lady; “Follow me, follow me/Follow me down” he orders another. He tries to create depth by citing Romeo and Juliet on “Starcrossed Lovers” and, erm, Chairman Mao on “Indestructible”, but he gives it all away with lines like “I’ll be your refugee”. I mean, what on earth does he mean?
Still, you come to The Fratellis for no-frills fun (just like they stupidly want their women to do). And this time they deliver. Which is a spiritual achievement worth celebrating in 2018.
Highlights are numerous and keep coming at you. “Sugartown” has a sweet 60s pop melody and could maybe have been a hit in that decade with some better singing. “The Next Time We Wed” is a breathless synth-rock adventure with a blues progression and some country guitar licks – a mishmash that curiously works. “Laughing Gas” at first seems almost the aural equivalent of inhaling that gas, a rush that’s heady and addictive at the time but will soon be forgotten about once it’s over; it’s ultimately more satisfying though.
“Advaita Shuffle” really does create a beat to get you shuffling, though its pauses for Indian-influenced bridges awkwardly pays debt to The Beatles’ “Within You, Without You” and disrupts the song’s flow. “I Guess… I Suppose…” has a strangled rooster guitar riff that laughs at itself before you have the chance to. And “Indestructible” could comfortably be played in bars alongside “Chelsea Dagger”, its chorus ready for drunken singalongs.
There’s not a bad song on here, in fact. Though there’s not a perfect one either. It’s a mess of ideas that only intermittently fall into place, but everything gets swept along in a beat that rarely stops regardless. Like any good rock n’ roll, it manages to surpass its limitations through infectious enthusiasm.
But why oh why are they so obsessed with refugees? Jon Fratelli sings on the opening track: “You look like salvation but you taste like a refugee”. Eh?! Come again?