Review Summary: Let's get the band back together!6 of 6 thought this review was well written
It is needless to say that bands break up all the time. Any group of musicians that stick together in the studio, cross the globe on tour for years on end, play the same songs that they wrote five years ago, and generally spend 98% of their lives together are, eventually, going to get in each others' ways. For the Fratellis, a raucous melodic rock trio from Scotland, the end simply came too soon.
Since their debut Costello Music
was released in 2006, the Fratellis have popped up quite consistently in your life, perhaps without you even realizing it. “Baby Fratelli” played prominently in the movie “Hot Fuzz.” “Flathead,” arguably the song that had the biggest impact in the United States at the time of its release, was featured in one of the dancing Apple iPod commercials back in the day. The bands’ signature song, “Chelsea Dagger” has appeared in everything from beer commercials to sports arenas. But things only went downhill from there for the band. Their terribly titled sophomore release, Here We Stand
didn’t have nearly as large of an impact commercially on either side of the Atlantic because of its bluesier character, but nevertheless featured a few choice cuts that still stood up to their previous release. Their second album was also notable for its introduction of the piano into many of their songs, including closer and album highlight “Milk and Money,” which ended the album with the telling line: “Five hundred kids shout ‘what's the deal?’/ it's a very confusing way to feel” amid a whirr of piano, guitars and sonic noise.
And then...they were gone.
After only four years of playing together, the band abruptly called it quits indefinitely in 2009. What exactly happened between the members still remains a bit of a mystery to this day. The world continued on unaffected. Many of their peers trudged on in a world that cared less and less for garage rock, and found new ways to maintain their success by exploring psychedelic influences, and sometimes even venturing into pop. Each of the members of the trio found ways to pass the time by joining different projects. Most notably, lead singer Jon Lawler joined the short lived Codeine Velvet Club before pursuing a solo career and releasing an album entitled Psycho Jukebox
. One of the most fascinating things that lead singer Jon Lawler said while doing the press for the Fratellis reunion album, We Need Medicine
, is that the thing he missed the most about being in the Fratellis was that the band had an audience. As a solo artist, Lawler (who even kept his last name as ‘Fratelli’ so people would know he was) garnered very little attention. A publication here, a music video there, but certainly nothing compared to the audience that the Fratellis had in their prime. After some reunion tour dates, and after fully realizing that their former audience still wanted the Fratellis to perform together, the band went back into the studio to record their first new studio album in five years.
From the start, it is clear that Medicine
is not in any way or shape another Costello Music
. There are no nonsensical choruses, very little shouting, and most importantly, nothing that even resembles the total and utter glee of “Chelsea Dagger.” In many ways, Medicine can be seen as a direct sequel to Lawler’s solo album (and sometimes even resembling Here We Stand
). Most of the eleven tracks are blues-infused mid-tempo rockers that feature a sing along chorus, catchy guitar riffs and well laid out melodies. But, it is also clear that these are not the same Fratellis that left us five years ago. Their skills as a band have become tighter, albeit somewhat less exciting to listen to. While Costello Music
often rode the line of completely losing control, Medicine
is comparatively tighter and slower. However, like Here We Stand
and Lawler’s solo album, this album has moments of greatness sprinkled throughout. Take for example opener “Halloween Blues,” a song that overflows with the energy that the trio had in years past. Featuring some great start-stop moments, Lawler delivers one of the most memorable lines on the entire album: “Well I'm gonna be imperious/I'm gonna be the next Harry Belafonte,” a line that is ripe with the swagger and passion that Lawler was known for. Other highlights include “Jeannie Nitro,” a song that channels some mystery and a doo-wop style call and response into its fairly straight forward chord progression. The guitar melody in “This Old Ghost Town” begs for you to sing along, and “Rock and Roll Will Break Your Heart,” the only true ballad on the album, uses a xylophone to great effect to emphasize its sweet melody.
Not every reunion is perfect, and of course, there are a few lower points to mention: “Shotgun Shoes” drags on even though it only breaks four minutes. Closer “Until She Saves My Soul” builds up to relatively nothing after five minutes of grating horns and anticipation. Other tracks fly by without any real good or bad qualities: “Whisky Saga” only once catches the listener's attention once with a distorted guitar effect, and otherwise (rightly) sounds like the sort of tune that you would hear when you walked into an old-timey saloon with its excessive clanging on the banjo.
We Need Medicine
provides many delightful tracks for Fratellis fans to gobble up, shout out, and sing along to at their concerts, but it also shows us that the band still has many of the same faults that they showed on Here We Stand
. Some tracks, whether they are too long, too boring, or just not exciting miss the mark. Medicine
is not nearly as thrilling as their debut, but excels at points in showing why the band was so popular only a few short years ago. The Fratellis have shown us over the course of three albums that they truly excel when the tempos are upbeat, the guitars are layered one on top of the other, and they just let everything go. When they tighten up on mid-tempo blues songs, the energy that the trio often vanishes, and we are left with a shell of what used to be. The potential for the reunited band to be commercially successful is still there, but let’s just hope that next time around, the boys plug in the electrics, and turn the amps up to eleven. If they do, it could be another wild ride.