Born in the UK, invading the U.S.A
by Alan Sculley
When the Fratellis released its debut CD, Costello Music, last year in the United States, plenty of predictions followed that this would be the next band from the United Kingdom to make a big splash in the States.
There was tangible evidence to support that claim. Just ahead of the CD’s release, the lead single, “Flathead,” was featured in a widely aired commercial for Apple’s iPod.
The release of Costello Music also coincided with the group’s hype-generating appearances at the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, in March 2007. At one of the group’s several showcase performances, Who guitarist Pete Townshend joined in on a song.
Also, by that time Costello Music was already a bona fide hit in the UK, where it reached number two on the album charts.
But Costello Music never gained much traction commercially in the States. “Flathead” stalled out well shy of the top 20 on various singles charts and the buzz that had once been so loud had faded by fall 2007.
Now the Scottish band is back with a second album, Here We Stand, and a five-week U.S. tour that represents the longest continuous stretch of shows the group has played in the States. The tour primarily visits large clubs, not the much larger venues that the Fratellis play in the UK or that the band might have reasonably expected to dot a Stateside itinerary by now.
Jon Fratelli, singer/guitarist and chief songwriter for the band, though, says he isn’t at all disappointed that the band hasn’t made a bigger splash in the United States.
“[I read about] bands that are from the UK that come here and they’ve never been featured on an American tour and they play 200- and 300-seat clubs,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I’m really sort of proud and pleased that we are where we are in America because it’s got a lot of music and it’s got a lot of bands, and it doesn’t necessarily need us.”
In reality, America can definitely use a band like the Fratellis. Costello Music was a refreshing collection of spirited Brit-pop highlighted by the super-sized anthem “Chelsea Dagger,” sing-alongable ditties like “Vince The Loveable Stoner” and several songs (such as “Flathead,” “Henrietta” and “Creepin’ Up The Backstairs”) that boasted wickedly catchy guitar hooks and pleasingly spastic tempos.
Here We Stand is more conventional. The inventive tempos of “Flathead” and “Henrietta” are missing and the CD lacks some of the madcap feel of Costello Music. Still, the new CD has its share of rockers with smart pop hooks and ear-grabbing choruses (“My Friend John,” “Mistress Mabel” and “Shameless” ).
And especially toward the end of Here We Stand, the Fratellis show a willingness to push the stylistic envelope. The band combines a bit of country-ish crooning with slamming glam rock on “Acid Jazz Singer” and some Beatles-esque rock, complete with a creative rock solid mid-verse tempo shift, on “Lupe Brown.”
Overall, the Fratellis has fattened its sound on Here We Stand and also expanded its instrumental palette to feature piano on several songs, including the standout rocker “A Heady Tale”
There was some method to the evolution in the band’s music on Here We Stand. Fratelli said the group was concerned that the speedy tempos of songs like “Flathead” would become cliché.
“I kind of thought if we did even a couple of songs that had that sort of thing in it, then you’d just be open to looking like they’re going to play that trick,” he said. “It becomes a trick.”
Beyond that, the group didn’t want to be accused of making the same sort of album twice, even if evolving carried some risk. Fratelli said he is fully prepared for the possibility that fans might not like the way the group’s sound changed on Here We Stand.
“I always reckoned we would lose some fans from it,” he said. “You know, people, you give them what they want the first time around, and odds are if they fall in love with it, they kind of want the same thing again. But you, being the band, I would hope if you have any sort of fire, you’re absolutely not going to do the same thing again.”
The bigger, more arena-suitable sound of Here We Stand is something of an extension of how the Fratellis as a live band grew during the Costello Music tour. Fratelli said the group gradually learned about pacing within its show and sought to add some heft to its sound.
“For a start, we slowed down,” Fratelli said. “We had no idea until people would show us at gigs, like festivals and stuff. I had no idea how quick we were. We really rushed the set… I think it made us seem a bit ramshackle and a little bit messy. Toward the end of last year, we started to slow down and tried to take our time a little and let things breathe a bit more. That was a change.
“Just talking about instrument wise, we were sort of clangy and clackity in the beginning,” he said. “There wasn’t much in the way of balls. We definitely gradually started to work our way to something else.”
The Fratellis should have full sound on the current tour. The band, which formed in 2005 in Glasgow, has expanded from its core lineup of Jon Fratelli, bassist Barry Fratelli and drummer Mince Fratelli (yes, they do the Ramones thing with the last names) to include a touring keyboardist/guitarist.
“There are too many good songs on the new album that we just couldn’t do live without piano,” Fratelli said. “It’s actually been really great to have somebody new to play with.”
Fratelli said the band plans to spend more time playing shows in the states behind Here We Stand than the group did following the release of Costello Music. By the time the CD was released in America, the Fratellis had been on tour for a year in other countries and its attention had already started to turn toward album number two.
“We really should have spent the next sort of six months coming back and forth to America and really having a good go at it,” Fratelli said, reflecting on the Costello Music tour. “But by that point, to be honest, we had one eye on, like, September because we knew in September of last year we were going to stop for a little while. I think in certain places we got there a little bit late.”
While the Here We Stand tour is front and center in Fratelli’s mind for now, he also has begun thinking about the band’s future and is determined to reach new heights with the group’s music.
“The thing is we bought a studio in Glasgow,” he said. “That’s our studio now, and I think definitely in the future we’ve got one eye on spending a lot of time there and making a lot of music and really seeing what we could do if we really put our mind to it. I’m excited about making some special records. I’m obsessive about it. And we have not made anything near a special record yet, and to me that’s exciting because I want to get there and I enjoy sort of the [challenge] and the chase and trying to get there.”
On the Bill
The Fratellis performs at the Monolith Festival on Saturday, Sept. 13, at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 W. Alameda Pkwy., Morrison, 720-865-2494. For the complete Monolith Festival lineup, go to www.monolithfestival.com.
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