After a hiatus of a few months, Frank Macarthy is back starting today with Second Listen, a weekly feature in which he looks back at lesser-loved albums from well-loved bands’ discographies.
Hello, again. After a short (but way too long) break, I’m back with the best and worst albums from yesteryear. The albums that were snubbed. The albums that were forgotten. The albums that were never respected. The albums that were respected enough. And the albums that were respected too much. I hope you’ll be as pleased with my return as I am.
Like practically everything else in life, music has its trends and fads. Some of them last a while (hip-hop). Some of them fizzle with a whimper (the talkbox). Several years ago a “new” trend emerged: upbeat, catchy, cheesy, “Brit-pop.” Bands like The Wombats, Maximo Park, and Locksley (yes, I know that not all of these bands are from Britain, it’s about a sound, not a location) were popping up in iTunes commercials, advertisements for insurance, and with The Fratellis, hockey arenas. Not since the rise of Irish punk has music encountered more drunken anthems than with the contemporary Brit-pop movement. And all was well. We could all rejoice by swinging a pint in our hands and belting the latest catchy chorus in a key somewhat close to the original. At least for a little while.
In 2005 a trio of young, rambunctious Scots formed a band named after the villains from a classic adventure flick (good bar trivia fact). If you haven’t seen The Goonies, stop reading this review, find a way to watch the movie, and re-evaluate your life accordingly. But, unlike Jake, Francis, and Mama Fratelli, this trio of silly Scots won the hearts and ears of a worldwide audience in desperate need of new drunken hymns. Their first attempt at solidifying a spot on bar jukeboxes everywhere, Costello Music, was a praised success. From start to finish the album was a fun, poppy romp through a forest of aneurism-inducing choruses. Then they recorded their second album.
From the very beginning, Here We Stand was met with mixed to poor praise from pretentious and acclaimed review sources alike. After two years of hectic touring and recording. The Fratellis were ready to release their second album. I remember looking them up on YouTube after the release of Costello Music. They were rubbish live. Then I saw them at Lollapalooza. They were a blast live. Then I heard Hear We Stand. They were rubbish all over again.
Where to begin with Here We Stand? I think the bongos that open the album at the start of “My Friend John” are a good place to start. Yep. Bongos. Remember, this is a review about a Fratellis album. You know, the same Scots who made a lewd (but funny) pun with the word “Country” on their first album (by removing a very important, but technically unnecessary letter). Right away, this album reminds me of that one friend who quit drinking and partying because he wanted to act “older” and more “mature,” but forced it too hard. And then he became an asshole. Here We Stand is your asshole friend.
The first single on the album (that rode the charts in the United Kingdom for weeks, mind you), “Mistress Mabel,” is a confused mix of classic Fratellis riffs, forced piano slides, digital guitar effects reminiscent of a funkier time, and a lyrical melody seemingly ripped from a children’s television show. The real Fratellis are under this guise somewhere. You can hear it in the melodies. They are often catchy, quirky, and the right amount of bubbly Brit-poppy. Just in the wrong ways.
“Shameless” goes from a rip-roarin’ rock’n roll riff to forgettable pop clichés from verse to chorus. This equation seems to be symptomatic of the album as a whole. A good idea is chucked into a boiling pot of bad ones. Take “Tell Me a Lie” for example. The guitar sounds like a Queens of the Stone Age song without balls. Lyrically, the track is simple, but the guitar distortion and heavy bass riffs tell a story that really isn’t there. The song punches you in the face and tries to give you a cupcake at the same time. It just doesn’t work.
One of the few saving graces of the album is “Acid Jazz Singer.” In a late Frank Turner (post-Million Dead) manner, the Fratellis tackle folk punk. And they do it well. Simplicity is key, and they definitely keep it simple. The guitar solos are a little wank-y, but that’s coming from a frustrated rhythm guitarist, so take that critique as you will.
Overall (and realistically), Here We Stand is mediocre. Typically that would stand as a decent review. But, taking Costello Music into account, it’s hard to give much credit to this sophomore attempt. You’d think that I would feel a little dissatisfied that my first review in months is relentlessly scathing, but I’ve got The Goonies queued up to ease my pain. At least these Fratellis won’t be disappointing. Go Hawks.