You might have heard that Glasgow’s Fratellis are a bit glam. Round their way, it’s all space hoppers, spangles and coveted Bolan seven-inches (that they might be able to swap for something from 1972-era Bowie). In Fratelliland, there are no iPods, no MP3s and YouTube is an adhesive for push-bike puncture repairs. They are shamelessly retro, yes, but don’t think that means they have no original ideas.
For a start, theirs is a brilliantly old-school/new-tricks take on the classic last-gang-in-town myth. To qualify, a band must be ‘proper mates’ with a collective history, look cool when standing around street corners, and share a certain style and Musketeer philosophy. In short, they’re ‘us’, and everyone else will always be ‘them’. The Clash crowned it and since then it’s been a sprint through Happy Mondays, The Strokes and, of course, The Libertines.
The Fratellis’ nod to the Ramones in all taking the same surname and brandishing it like a badge immediately exudes cool. Like The Libs they have concocted hyperreal back-stories – car thief, stoner, mystical oddball – which are immediately more interesting than whatever the truth might be. The last time a rock band arrived out of the blue so fully-formed was when Franz Ferdinand – haircuts, uniforms, artwork, videos, lyrics and interview techniques all carefully conceived – were sprung upon us. Maybe it’s something in the water in Glasgow; the Clyde isn’t short of its own legends.
But despite landing as a complete package, there is nothing cynically contrived about The Fratellis. They look like they sweat rock’n’roll. It’s not just the big hair, skinny jeans, shades and sulky poses – they’re wound up by a genuine love for the music and its history and their desperation to be part of it all. It’s a natural fanboy response, it informs everything they say or do and it feels as natural as learning to walk.
The ’fros and the pouts are important, and seriously seductive, but don’t worry – the tunes match up. ‘Costello Music’ tears along, fuelled by relentless youthful glee and Jon’s scratchy vocal – part-Bolan, part-Caledonian Pete. Light and shade isn’t the point with The Fratellis, they just make a merry and unpretentious noise. Think the energy and cheekiness of the first Supergrass record ramped up, multiplied and wearing darker denim.
In other hands, ‘Henrietta’ – a tale of an older woman stalker – would be clunky and bogus. Here it’s a believable, racy air-punching chantalong, all chopping guitars and upbeats where ‘cola’ rhymes with ‘gondola’. The swapping of ‘I said/she said’ lyrics (‘Cuntry Boys And City Girls’) carries echoes of the trials of Pete & Carl – as does the idea of girls who might be boys, which bubbles through a few tunes. There’s constant wide-eyed innocent wonderment about chasing girls, especially the ones just out of reach. When Jon sings “I love the way you city girls dress/Even though your head’s in a mess,” he sounds half-excited, half-terrified. Things really start to go T-Rex on the double-tracking entry to ‘Chelsea Dagger’ and it’s pretty glam-tastic from there on in, especially on the brilliant ‘Vince The Loveable Stoner’, by which time you know you’re listening to one of the albums of the year. It might be 13 tracks long, but there’s no flab here.
Still, there have been doubts voiced about the authenticity of the trio for a number of reasons. They only played their first gig last March, they were signed to Island with what appeared to be indecent haste and a number of high profile producers were parachuted in to work on the album (like Tony ‘Beck’ Hoffer). The band were also sent to LA to complete it. It’s much like Jet three years ago – there is a similar amount of hype and money behind The Fratellis. And the real pressure starts now. The band are about to headline the 02 NME Rock’n’Roll Riot Tour. In the past headline acts have included Razorlight and Kaiser Chiefs, so there’s quite a mark to live up to.
But who cares about any of that? Yes, the Jet comparison stands up – but only because the Fratellis have delivered a brilliantly retro album that relies on the past for inspiration, but has the hips and attitude of 2006. They are what Dirty Pretty Things would like to be.
Right now, their bouncing glamorama feels like the most important album you could own. ‘Costello Music’ will wrestle with ‘Empire’ for your soul over the next few weeks. Do yourself a favour and sign it over to the Glaswegian trio now.