If Kaiser Chiefs were Bowie to the mid-2000s radio indie boom years, then The Fratellis were Mud. Possessors of ‘Chelsea Dagger’, a single sloppy pop song designed to make festival crowds stomp their wellies in time, the Glaswegian trio seemed destined for pop cultural immortality, and rapid musical oblivion.
Which is why, as fourth albums go, ‘Eyes Wide Tongue Tied’ seems a pleasant surprise. There’s still something deeply disposable about Jon Fratelli’s tribute American accent, his off-the-mark tales of how he “sang the blues for my bride” or his unfortunate decision to write an entire song called ‘Moonshine’. But he’s clearly also a career songwriter, and there’s plenty of artisanship on show, if not much art.
The follow-up to 2013’s ‘We Need Medicine’ remains rooted in Jon, Barry and Mince Fratelli’s Scottish take on Americana. On ‘Imposters (Little By Little)’ they take those fingerpicking styles and playbook songwriting to forge a sound comfortable in its own skin. ’Desperate Guy’ follows through with its similar Gram Parsons weary-wistfulness, while ’Slow’, a ballad caught somewhere between Ryan Adams and Snow Patrol, manages to locate exactly the delicacy that their ham-handed approach often lacks.
On the opposite tack, much of the cornball carousing side of their schtick has been retained. ‘Too Much Wine’ establishes a firm spot in the genre of songs about drinking too much wine by sounding like it fell off the back end of the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. ’Baby Don’t You Lie To Me!’ rattles with the same goofy energy that MGMT brought to ‘Brian Eno’, and would definitely be a big hit, were it not 2015.
The boldest of departures involve big nods to the Motown era, and suck the hardest. ’Thief’, for reasons that are never quite made clear, borrows liberally from Ray Parker Jr’s ‘Ghostbusters’, before turning into early Zutons zombie-rock. For its part, ’Dogtown’ couldn’t be more in thrall to Stevie Wonder if its favourite colour was corduroy. That experiment seems noble enough, until it collapses into a chorus that would provoke festival crowds to roll about on the floor laughing it’s so comically intent on finding the button marked ‘anthemic’.
Anyone who’s seen The Fratellis do ‘Chelsea Dagger’ at T In The Park will understand the awesome power of nailing that big chord change. But ‘Eyes Wide Tongue Tied’ is more testament to subtlety and getting the basics right.