The Fratellis tease melody from noise

Rock might be dead but the Scottish trio still has something to offer

ae-TheFratellisInYourOwnSweetTime-CourtesyWikimediaCommons

The music put out in the last half-decade — including this week’s new album “In Your Own Sweet Time” — proves that rock music itself isn’t quite dead.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons | Cavalier Daily

Rock and roll is supposed to be over. Last year, Forbes ran an article entitled “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is Dead. No, Really This Time.” In December 2017, The New York Times maligned “The Avalanche of Rock ’n’ Roll Death,” calling rock “an aging genre with elderly practitioners.” 

Glasgow-based rock band The Fratellis are not quite young enough anymore to disprove that last assertion, but the music they’ve put out in the last half-decade — including this week’s new album “In Your Own Sweet Time” — proves that rock music itself isn’t quite dead, even if many of its icons might be quickly heading that direction. 

The Fratellis reached their peak commercial success in the late aughts when their hit song “Flathead” was used in a ubiquitous iPod commercial and their upbeat track “Chelsea Dagger” led their debut album “Costello Music” to number two on the UK charts. They followed their smashing debut with a forgettable, critically-panned sophomore effort entitled “Here We Stand,” then took a five-year hiatus. 

The group returned in 2013 with “We Need Medicine,” followed in 2015 with “Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied” and “In Your Own Sweet Time” this week. The three post-hiatus albums all share infectious energy and earworm choruses. The Fratellis have a tremendous ability to keep their songs melodic without sacrificing power or energy. The band is most often compared to The Libertines, another early-aughts British pub-rock group, but The Fratellis have a little more to them than that comparison suggests — longevity, for one thing. The Fratellis’ snarling guitar riffs and drum-led melodies have as much vigor as punkier groups like early Green Day. Frontman Jon Fratelli’s vocals are peculiar and slurred, filled with potential in the same irresistible way as someone like Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz.

In case those comparisons didn’t make it clear, listeners looking for the cutting-edge need not bother with The Fratellis. The group is male in sound and sentiment, and the most common subject in their songs is pursuing women. They aren’t woke, but they aren’t problematic either. Their lines, at their best, are tempered with a healthy dose of nonsense. “Thrill me till my teeth go white,” Jon sings on “The Next Time We Wed.” “I get nervous when you bounce my ball,” he confesses on “Sugartown.” They lifted their band name from the bad guys in “The Goonies,” and all three tour under the surname Fratelli, despite not being related. They don’t take themselves too seriously.

“In Your Own Sweet Time” does the same things well that the band has always done well. The album’s first two songs are its best two songs, packed with life and spunk. “If I was the melody you were the symphony,” Jon sings over a spirited instrumental backdrop in the album’s opening number. Jon shifts to an enchanting and often-used falsetto on “Starcrossed Losers” to keep things from getting too heady. The song has propulsion without sacrificing melody. These are songs for dancing and stomping and goofing around. 

The band’s biggest weakness has long been a lack of versatility. The 2013’s “We Need Medicine” was particularly culpable, barely straying from the blend of blues-rock and pop that the group has always relied on. “In Your Own Sweet Time” is more stylistically diverse, although the tracks in which the group branches out the most are also the weakest. Jon’s Glaswegian growl is ill-suited for the twanging synths of “The Next Time We Wed.” The group isn’t quite musically virtuosic enough to make white-boy funk sound cool — tracks with heavy funk influence like “Indestructible” and “I Guess… I Suppose…” fall short of the mark recently set by groups like Vulfpeck. 

The Fratellis aren’t a paradigm-shifting group. They most certainly aren’t the future of rock and roll. They aren’t as inventive as Spoon, and they don’t feel as young and dynamic as the Arctic Monkeys — despite having been around for just as long. But, like those groups, they serve as a reminder that rock doesn’t have to be written off just yet. Hopefully, there will always be space in popular music for frisky guitar and chant-able choruses, and The Fratellis are experts in that field.

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