The Fratellis have never concerned themselves with how far they hover from the fault line of respectability – their USP is unashamed, inoffensive guitar-pop that some might call thrilling, others might call bland. In the end, their 2006 debut ‘Costello Music’ was a critical and commercial accomplishment that cemented them as the more accessible, watered-down cousins of The Libertines, which probably sounds much harsher than it really is. Their follow-up ‘Here We Stand’ came too late to cash in on their ‘Best Breakthrough Act’ win at the 2007 Brits and ended up being a bit of a non-event.
As a result, the band drifted into an indefinite hiatus by 2009, occupying their time in various other musical projects. A few years down the line and a downplayed reunion later, ‘We Need Medicine’ arrives – the third instalment in the band’s canon which takes their familiar barrel-rolling post-Britpop formula and stirs in flakes of Poguesian jittering with some old-school rock ‘n’ roll guitar patterns to achieve a sound that’s less samey than ‘Costello Music’ but not quite as catchy.
At first glance, the titles of this uproarious and far from ‘difficult’ third album kind of forms a sentence when put together, evoking an image of a run-down Scottish pub on a quiet October evening interrupted by a staggeringly beautiful mystery woman who “came, she saw, she made ‘em cry / Lost their hearts, but don’t know why” and isn’t ‘Gone Yet But She’s Leaving’.
1. Halloween Blues
2. This Old Ghost Town
3. She’s Not Gone Yet But She’s Leaving
4. Seven Days Seven Nights
5. Shotgun Shoes
6. Whisky Saga
7. This Is Not the End of the World
8. Jeannie Nitro
9. We Need Medicine
10. Rock N Roll Will Break Your Heart
11. Until She Saves My Soul
This song name chronology is probably as close to a concept album The Fratellis are ever going to get and that’s fine – there’s more than one subject matter at hand here. ‘Seven Nights Seven Days’, for instance, has some flickers of religious discontent hidden behind the merry music (“I’ll be the comeback king / On his way home from hell”… “Show me the way brother, give me a sign sister”) but is predictably vague – far more vague than the lusty, infatuated anti-ballads they’re known for that crop up elsewhere on ‘We Need Medicine’. Despite it’s quite miserable lyrics “I see all of my dreams ragged and torn” this banjo-driven romp is still an unsurprising choice for lead single in an age where agriculturalists with instruments accumulate more gongs than they do crops, and sadly it’s all too easy to mistake Jon Fratelli’s voice for Marcus Mumford.
On the second side there’s apocalyptic reassurance in ‘This Is Not the End of the World’ which starts like an up-tempo spin on Oasis’ ‘Let There Be Love’ but staggers towards an uncharacteristically mundane chorus; you can normally expect – for better or worse – either a potboiler or a serenade-of-sorts from the Scottish scoundrels, but this is a little bit ‘meh’. This seems to be a recurring issue with ‘We Need Medicine’: though there are some wholesome hooks here, that consistency they boasted in their debut is gone, perhaps because they’re trying a bit harder to give each sound a distinctive flavour. In that respect, it is a step in the right direction, as songs like ‘Jeannie Nitro’ prove. The “Jeannie, ahh, Jeannie, Jeannie” backing squalls bear a warped similarity to the Undertones’ punky fictional epitaph ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ and the frenetic foxtrot breakdown is the most vibrant moment on the album – a worthy update to the song by which the band were more or less typecast back in 2006, ‘Chelsea Dagger’.
Unfortunately things sometimes go a little pear-shaped, particularly around the title track, whose brazen efforts to sound anthemic fall apart pretty early on from irritating vocals, a tiresome beat and a horribly one-dimensional chorus chant (“We need medicine and we need it now / To get us to the end of time”). However, The Fratellis have never been about breaking new poetic ground so much as tongue-in-cheek witticisms, so it’s forgivable. And it’s just about pulled back by the blockbuster closer ‘Until She Saves My Soul’ anyway, wherein this musical ragdoll collage of wild guitar solos and burly brass filling hits its ludicrously indulgent peak. Does it manage to justify its five-and-a-half-minute running time? Just. The constantly invigorated layers of instrumentation which are hurled at this production like splatters of wet paint against a wall remain somehow intact because, behind all that manic absurdity, there is a heart.
A fun, messy and unapologetic record which shows intermittent flashes of ambition from a band clearly still finding their feet after a five-year break, ‘We Need Medicine’ has The Fratelli’s twisting the dials and shifting their styles, but they still haven’t matured. They won’t mature. And, to be honest, why should they?
This article was first posted on October 7, 2013