The Fratellis: Here We Stand

The Fratellis
Here We Stand

The Fratellis have a lot to answer for.

The Scottish trio’s debut, Costello Music, was an undeniable low point of British indie in 2006; its subsequent resounding success an even lower one. As the Kooks had done with their valiant attempt at bedding Britain’s entire female population via the power of unexceptional but fairly catchy indie, the record brought a whole new meaning to the term ‘cock-rock’, providing a soundtrack to the Carling-drenched Friday night travails of misogynistic, lecherous blokes’ perpetual pursuit of getting laid.

Costello Music sounded a bit like the Libertines, a bit like the Arctic Monkeys, but was as good as neither and was shrouded in an inescapable air of machismo. The crowning testosterone-soaked jewel of the whole affair was “Chelsea Dagger”, a song so monumentally stupid that each individual exposure was like a personal attack on the integrity and intellect of the collective British music-buying populace. For the uninitiated/untainted, its chorus ran thus:

Der der der, der der der, der der der der der der der

Der der der, der der der, der der der der der der der

Der der der, der der der, der der der der der der der

Der der der, der der der, der der der der der der der

Each of those pissed-up, wordless chants was like a swift smash to the skull with a spanner, every repetition leading more mutinous brain cells to give up the ghost with a departing lamentation of “Sod this, when’s the new Animal Collective album out?”

“Chelsea Dagger” charted at number 5; Costello Music was a mainstay of the album charts for months to come.

Short-lived though the appeal of such simplicity proves to be historically, it’s easy to get riled by such inanity — not just due to the almost ubiquitous context in which those “der der der”s were intoned in certain circles, but also because of the inevitability with which they overshadowed genuinely exciting talent. At the same time as the Fratellis were stumbling upon fame and the NME were loudly declaring their album of retrograde and faintly uninspired rock “the most important album you could own”, new releases by bona fide boundary-pushers like Sunset Rubdown and Liars remained the relative privilege of indie cognoscenti, while another Scot act of more durable pre-eminence, Arab Strap, quietly passed away. Given this, it’s tempting to hold up the Fratellis as fall guys for popular music injudiciousness. They’re not. The Fratellis are a harmless indie-rock band writing (for better or for worse) intermittently memorable, radio-friendly tunes that, like so much music of its ilk, seems much more tolerable with a heady dose alcohol in your veins — and seems much less so under a blanket of sobriety and surrounded by a gaggle of sweaty young men drunkenly moonlighting as Liam Gallaghers.

Here We Stand only serves to confirm this. But while the album sticks to roughly the same formula Costello Music used — recognisable if unremarkable riffs, passable stopgap verses, singalong choruses — it has dispensed with some of that record’s more objectionable faculties. Gone, for the most part, are the gang-chants and the wordless vocal refrains, and that sense of laddishness, though still evident on occasion, has thankfully diminished. Unfortunately for the Fratellis, it was those qualities that made them a hit in the first place. Indeed, in stripping their music of some of its polarising qualities, they’ve left it bereft of anything of any real note. True, it’s a more mature album — but that’s mature in the negative sense, leaning closer to creaky knee’d AOR than rowdy indie rock. Where the Fratellis’ debut sounded like an uncultured, blunter Arctic Monkeys, the sophomore release sounds like the Sheffield foursome in thirty years time if they were to go down the same tireless route as the seemingly immortal Who, knocking out albums every once in a while to a general consensus of “Ooh, aren’t they energetic for their age?”

While we’re on the topic of the Monkeys, it’s incredibly difficult to take Jon Fratelli, the vocalist, seriously when so frequently his voice is a such a deadringer for that of Alex Turner, sans a little bit of its Yorkshire snarl. Not only is this derisory, it’s also a shame, because you can’t help but feel like Here We Stand would benefit from the Scottish twang that the band presumably resort to in speech. It might not instil their songs with Turner’s biting wit or knack for astute and, crucially, interesting social commentary, but it would sure as hell lend them a little more of the identity that they’re sorely lacking.

In the past, this deficiency didn’t really matter — Fratellis fans were Fratellis fans because they found them fun — danceable perhaps; at the very least chantable. The problem with Here We Stand is that it’s simply not any of those characteristics. It’s got no identity of its own, yes, but it’s no fun, either. “My Friend John” has a passably fist-pumping chorus and scraggly riff, “A Heady Tale” eventually climaxes with the reinstitution of those well-serving joyful “la la la”s, while “Stragglers Moon” is rare accomplished advancement, thrusting together a neat, twiddly guitar line with perhaps the album’s only emotive vocal. And that’s about it. Here We Stand is a wholly unremarkable record, so ‘no frills’ it could be part of the ASDA Smart Price range, so uneventful that reviewing it becomes an unexpectedly thorny procedure simply because barely anything stands out enough to bother mentioning. Its leading single, “Misstress Mabel”, with its generic riffing and clichéd couplets, is actually shockingly dull.

And so although you can’t really blame the Fratellis for trying to develop — geezer-rock, after all, is a fairly limited genre — it just so happens that geezer-rock was what they did best. Simply put, their attempts at a new, more mature direction have found them lacking in all departments: lyrical, compositional, and creative. While their debut alienated a sizeable amount of music fans with its limited scope, its follow-up might force even the lad’s lads to look elsewhere for their Friday night singalongs.

RATING 4 / 10