Following on from 2013’s horrifically overlooked release, We Need Medicine, Glaswegian rockers The Fratellis are back, determined to cause more than a ripple in the sea of rock ‘n’ roll releases with their new album, Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied. The record launches into action with ‘Me and the Devil’, which, if we overlook the grammatical negligence in the title, is a slick and sexy anthem; jarring piano chords combine with a pulsating bassline and Jon Fratelli’s trademark vocal as he cries “I’m gonna lose my lonely mind for you”. The track peters out with a somewhat tribal sounding drumbeat, before the upbeat, country sounding ‘Imposters (Little By Little)’ dawdles into life. This is an infectiously catchy and simplistic effort, mostly owing to the repetitive chorus, but there’s something poignant and charming about the track nonetheless.
‘Baby Don’t You Lie To Me!’ is the punch in the face anthem up next; the lyrics slur into one another as the listener desperately tries to keep up with Jon, Barry and Mince. There’s a really grungy sounding riff which carries the song, and the tempo change just over midway through helps the track build to an explosive ending. One highlight from the record is ‘Down The Road… And Back Again’, with the same half singing, half talking delivery which we first heard in Costello Music. These two tracks boast a chorus which seems perfectly primed for a raucous live performance on the band’s October/November tour of the UK this year.
As folk tinged entity ‘Desperate Guy’ twangs into life, it seems this record follows a formula: the classic rock ‘n’ roll sing-a-long anthems, which The Fratellis have made a name for themselves with, are immediately followed by a lower-key more emotive track. ‘Slow’ does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a regret tinged ballad “If you’ve got to leave me, baby won’t you do it slow”, which follows on from the livelier ‘Rosanna’. It’s refreshing; The Fratellis are a band whose sound epitomises frivolity and fun, so it’s nice to see them wearing their heart on their sleeve for once. Bluesy effort ‘Moonshine’ is a cohesive, well constructed track which saves face after ‘Too Much Wine’, a song which sounds like it was recorded after consuming too much fermented grape juice – ripping off the bands own song ‘Creeping Up The Backstairs’.
Overall, Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied is a confused sounding record. Tracks are cloaked in unnecessary instrumentation, undermining the stellar song-writing that the band has perfected over the course of their ten-year long career. Case in point, ‘Thief’ is a bizarre amalgamation of sounds, which sounds like all those times you pressed the keys on the keyboard at random in your Y7 music lessons. A non verbal chorus which precedes a funky breakdown invites comparison to some of Kasabian and indeed, some of Reverend and the Makers’ catalogue. ‘Getting Surreal’ has an almost rap-like quality to the surreal and nonsensical lyrics spat out by Jon Fratelli, making it a fun sounding but pretty meaningless track. There’s even a Band of Skulls sounding intro to ‘Dogtown’, a track with instrumentation which goes on to sound like it was recorded at your local bandstand.
It’s haphazard, it’s confusing, but it just about works. Whether that’s owing to the genius of the Fratellis or sheer luck, it’s hard to tell. I get the feeling this is going to be a record which grows on me – at the moment my ears feel somewhat assaulted by the smorgasbord of genres, instruments and influences.
Perhaps that’s why the band has included five acoustic versions of songs on the record, enabling fans to appreciate their lyrical content in a stripped back, less aggressive format. The acoustic version of ‘Imposters (Little By Little)’ has a Johnny Cash vibe, whilst ‘Desperate Guy’ is more Noel Diamond-esque, especially as Fratelli croons “I’ve got nothing more to say except a long goodbye”.
The title of the album – Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied – suggests a sense of awkwardness; that adolescent feeling of confusion, the sense of not quite being quite comfortable in your own skin anymore. It’s a more than fitting title for an album by a band seemingly having an identity crisis. But, like any parent whose teenager is going through a “phase”, we’re not giving up on them just yet.
Words by Beth Kirkbride