Remember The Fratellis? They did that song your dad loves to wave his can of Fosters around to at every single wedding since 2006. I remember The Fratellis. I remember at the tender age of twelve, winding up the old Sony portable CD player and bobbing along to Henrietta in the back of the car. That being said, I’d be lying if I said I’ve consciously listened to a Fratellis track in the last five years. I’d also be lying if I said I knew that they were in fact still recording. And I’d be lying even more if I said I was expecting much when I picked up their latest album Eyes Wide, Tongues Tied.
Given the commercial miscarriage of The Fratellis third record, relative to the booming success of their first two, my ignorance and low expectations are perhaps somewhat justified. Nonetheless – as I’ve already alluded to – like most kids my age at the time, I quite liked The Fratellis’ first album. They rode into town on the crest of that brash British indie revival wave that had been stirred by Alex Turner and co, and to that end encapsulated all that was fun, silly and rebellious about being a kid. It was crass, unapologetically shallow, and dead loud – my mum hated it. Say what you like about Costello Music – honestly – but it rightfully never took itself that seriously. It had “laddish” quality some, my mum for instance, found understandably loathsome, but to a testosterone-pumped teenager like myself was positively infectious. But that time has gone; I’m no longer a testosterone-pumped teenager, more a regret filled twenty-something. I listen to FKA Twigs now – I’m an adult. I can’t like The Fratellis anymore.
I’m not the only one who’s grown up though – Alex Turner got a haircut, that bloke from The Kooks stopped putting on that weird voice, even Mumford & Sons have started wearing leather jackets for God’s sake. The Fratellis have grown up too… or at least rebranded. Gone are the risqué 1940s cartoon pin-ups that graced previous albums covers, so too is the sweet-shop-sign font they used to print their names. Instead, the cover of Eyes Wide greets us with a woman (a real one) staring at a blank canvas, and a minimalist font (I’m going to go out on a limb and say Avenir Black), all underlined as if to say, yes we’re The Fratellis, but we’re proper serious now.
But what about the actual music? Well that narrative is somewhat different – the struggle to suppress, or perhaps progress from, their old ways is less overt than their rebranded aesthetic. The product of that struggle means Eyes Wide suffers from a bit of an identity crisis; it becomes stranded in a sort of musical no man’s land. On the one hand, there’s this desire to grow up a bit, quit the Chelsea Dagger and become the champions of charming country ballads (see: Imposters and Slow) and then on the other hand there’s this obvious reluctance to abandon that endemic lust for blurted riffs and cheeky-chappy love stories (see: Baby Don’t You Lie To Me, Dogtown, and Getting Surreal). Neither endeavour is convincing, once you peel back the occasionally toe-tapping ditties this is an ultimately charmless album. As a teenager I went along with the big riffs and lyrics about back-alley encounters – it may not have been top-notch music, but it was a laugh. On the occasions when Eyes Wide attempts to hark back to Costello Music, it does so with ultimately hollow attempts. The lyrics aren’t personable, they’re not fun. Instead it’s all quite starkly anonymous – lead single Baby Don’t You Lie To Me is about as generic a rock track as they come.
To an extent I can understand the process by which The Fratellis came to make this record, both the desire to grow up and the reluctance to completely abandon something that’s bought you such a great degree of commercial success. Unforgivably though, the half-hearted attempt at departure means Eyes Wide, Tongues Tide ends up being the one thing an album made by The Fratellis never should be – proper boring.