When The Fratellis appeared on the U.K. music scene in the mid-2000s, they immediately drew attention due to a unique sense of irreverence and exuberance. “Chelsea Dagger,” off the rousing debut disc Costello Music, sold more than a million copies there. Two more top 20 singles and a BRIT Award followed. Meanwhile, “Flathead” was used in a popular iPod Shuffle commercial.
High profile gigs in 2007 on The Police reunion tour and a plum Coachella slot helped cement a cult following here in America.
Now the Scottish rock trio has returned with their excellent fifth album, In Your Own Sweet Time, an early contender for my albums of the year list. There’s a fresh vibrancy and fuller sound to the music with some Indian and dance influences, rare orchestration and falsetto vocals.
“All I’ve ever tried to do is entertain myself; that hasn’t changed,” said Jon Fratelli, in a phone interview from his home outside Glasgow. “This particular bunch of songs sounded more colorful to me. It’s definitely the best thing that we’ve done in a long time.
“Over time, you need to find new ways to work just to keep yourself engaged,” the singer/guitarist continued.
The band, rounded out by bassist Barry and drummer Mince Fratelli (like The Ramones, they all adopted the same stage surname), partnered with longtime producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, Supergrass, Phoenix) to record the new album in Los Angeles. Being “sun-starved” Scotsmen, they jumped at the chance to bask in “six weeks of sunshine.”
Hoffer also contributed keyboards to half of the tunes.
“We were quite happy to let Tony take the driver’s seat,” explained Jon. “He’s very trustworthy and we have a working relationship now whereby we let him try whatever he wants and we’re almost always really happy with the results.”
Infectious opener “Stand Up Tragedy” and an ebullient “The Next Time We Wed” saw Jon take his upper register to new heights.
“I was definitely having a lot more fun with vocals,” Jon admitted.
The latter song verges on early Prince and was based around drum loops he created and played guitar over. “I had the [title] written down. I liked the playfulness of that and the assumption that there will be a next time.”
Jon’s lyrics can veer into tongue-in-cheek territory – something he said was inspired by early influences like The Beatles and Bob Dylan.
“Why that resonated, I’m not sure. In retrospect, it probably has to do with this job. It is not to be taken seriously. It is supposed to be a fun and an enjoyable way of passing the time. I think that always appealed to me.”
Fast-paced latest single “Starcrossed Losers” revolves around a Romeo and Juliet tale, features cascading vocals and a sweeping orchestral score by longtime Fratellis tour keyboardist Will Foster (a former member of The Tears with The London Suede’s Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson).
“He was given free reign. The only thing I said to him was, ‘Can you come up with something English sounding?’ He sent me the whole thing the next day, which is just ridiculous. It really makes the song and topped everything off.”
Among the other album highlights are a poppy “Sugartown,” which evokes 1960s Merseybeat, the glam rock-meets-Muse stomper “I Guess…I Suppose” and “I’ve Been blind,” a soaring ‘70s power pop-style harmonies with a wicked guitar solo.
“Adviata Shuffle” – where the band mixes vocal loops, Middle Eastern strains, bluesy slide guitar work and an old nursery rhyme – and dense, nearly seven-minute-long “I Am That,” complete with Indian instrument esraj, a sample from an Indian guru documentary and jet engine sounds – definitely show The Fratellis at their experimental best.
Jon offers no apologies for going a bit nuts on that epic tune, which took the longest to record and used the most multi-tracks available in the studio.
“If you’re going to do a song like that, it’s better to go completely over the top rather than come up short.”
In recent years, “Chelsea Dagger” has taken on a life of its own as the fight song for various sports teams around the world (including our National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks). Yet Jon never seems to be in the right place at the right time to actually experience the chants.
“I always hear about it secondhand. It’s kind of comical. I have no idea how or why that happened,” he said. “I have no problem with it.” No surprise there: all the attention is “incredibly helpful” at keeping The Fratellis in the public consciousness.
The Fratellis – North American Tour Dates:
April 26 Commodore Ballroom – Vancouver, BC
April 27 The Showbox – Seattle, WA
April 28 Roseland Theater – Portland, OR
April 30 The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA
May 1 Belasco Theater – Los Angeles, CA
May 2 Observatory – Santa Ana, CA
May 4 Observatory North Park – San Diego, CA
May 5 Crescent Ballroom – Phoenix, AZ
May 7 The Complex – Salt Lake City, UT
May 8 Bluebird Theater – Denver, CO
May 10 First Avenue – Minneapolis, MN
May 11 Metro – Chicago, IL
May 12 Danforth Music Hall – Toronto, ON
May 14 The Majestic – Detroit, MI
May 15 Theatre of Living Arts – Philadelphia, PA
May 16 Brooklyn Steele – Brooklyn, NY
May 18 Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
May 19 9:30 Club – Washington D.C.
May 21 Exit/In – Nashville, TN
May 22 Terminal West – Atlanta, GA