Who’d want to be a musician these days? Online you’ll earn half a shilling for 20 million downloads of your album after having poured your heart and soul into it. The record company, if you’re lucky enough to have one, will probably send you out on ridiculously embarrassing promotional jobs and you will begin to question your own credibility. Critics will be harsh and the public will expect you to be on duty 24 hours a day. To be a musician it must really be the only thing you can contemplate doing, because whilst the non-conformist lifestyle is appealing, you’ll be lucky to catch a break. There are millions of people who want to be musicians for all the wrong reasons, and they’re probably more desperate than you.
At this stage of the game, the Fratellis seem to be in it for good; We Need Medicine is their third album after a five-year hiatus, and it’s a determined, purposeful piece of work. The music is thorough, raucously ragged, and the lyrics forceful. It’s easy to imagine that this album would exist even if there was no market for it, as you know the Fratellis would have made it anyway. It seems like a big development from indie superstars because the album has the potential to be a mainstream chart-busting zillion seller; it has just about the right level of commerciality without being a total sell-out.
“Halloween Blues” informs the tone from the get-go with its twangy guitar, ultra-confident vocals and a righteous rock and roll attitude. It’s full-on, with a saxophone solo. Then if to almost prove a point, “This Old Ghost Town” opens with a Springsteen-esque melody. It’s perhaps unexpected from an indie band, but this is their third album, and wasn’t that the moment Springsteen also decided to push things to the limit with Born to Run? The song also happens to share a similarity of concern, utilizing the theme of getting out of a boring place. “She’s Not Gone Yet But She’s Leaving” follows with a great rhythmic strut suitable for detailing the exciting, mysterious girl in question.
The importance of redemption is another key Springsteen theme and there’s a large element of this in “Seven Nights Seven Days”, which evokes the energy of being re-born after a time in the wilderness. As Jon Fratelli sings about comebacks, you know it’s deeply felt. The song roars along quite well, but it’s quite folksy after the loud electric guitar that has come before it. Fortunately “Shotgun Shoes” returns to the sharper, angular and electric approach. It’s tough, modern and takes no prisoners.
So it’s a surprise when the next song, “The Whiskey Saga”, reverts back to a more old-fashioned approach – I’m sure I can hear a banjo, and the lyrics reference “Mother Brown”. The switching between new and old is distracting and comes across as a little inconsistent. Maybe the Fratellis are subverting our expectations and just having fun with the listener, but as an overall artistic concept it doesn’t quite work.
Of course, just to prove the point that I’m whinging about nothing, along comes “This Is Not the End of the World”, a song about putting everything into perspective. It’s nervy and to the point, and again, modern and sharp. “Jeannie Nitro” has obvious echoes of classic rock and, despite a dark undercurrent, is anthemic enough to be sung on the terraces of Glasgow Rangers. The title track is similarly so, a good listen the first few times, but a struggle after this because of its repetitive nature. The Fratellis are quirky, and you almost have to accept that not everything will work to get to the moments of genius. Yet the ideas in “Rock n Roll Will Break Your Heart” and “Until She Saves My Soul” demonstrate that these boys are in the game for the right reasons, and these days that’s probably a rarity in itself.