Just What the Doctor Ordered
Fratellis fans have a reason to rejoice: the Scottish rock band have released their third studio album following Costello Music and Here We Stand, which featured the standout track “Look Out Sunshine.” “I’ve seen a half a dozen ghosts but I don’t believe / I’m a cynical cunt and I’m much too lazy to change”– I mean, come on, you can’t say that’s not an amazing couple of lines right there. Anyway, We Need Medicine is their first album in four years and guess what? The Fratellis need to put another album out already because We Need Medicine is absolutely fantastic.
It’s not easy for an indie band to carve out a spot for themselves these days. There is such a thing as saturation, and listeners can be forgiven for losing both patience and interest after encountering their tenth Mumford clone. So what elevates The Fratellis above the rest of the pack? Long story short: they just have more tools than their competition. It doesn’t hurt that an awful lot of their influence comes direct from British Invasion bands (Rolling Stones and The Beatles, to name the obvious ones); that’s a pretty good place to start, not that it would get them anywhere if they didn’t bring their own advantages to the party.
We’ll start with Jon Fratelli’s vocals. He’s always been a great singer, so it’s no surprise he showed up strong for We Need Medicine. He’s toned down the cheek from Here We Stand, sadly, although it still surfaces in “This Is Not the End” and a couple other tracks. Instead, he’s dialed up the intensity and brings an emotional range that carries several songs on We Need Medicine. Fratelli’s work on the piano is also very much worth a mention, which gives the album a consistently bluesy twang.
But more than anything else, this album is enjoyable for its diversity. Opener “Halloween Blues” is a perfect example. It’s fast-paced with excellent rhythmic fills, but it’s the sax solo at the end that really cements it. Why? Because it doesn’t feel forced. Plenty of bands shoe-horn similar gimmicks into their music, but The Fratellis set it up carefully and like the rest of the jazz injections on We Need Medicine, it feels like it belongs. And the band keeps the energy high, as well. “Halloween Blues” continues into the frenetic “This Old Ghost Town,” which leads into the superb Stones-stomped “Shotgun Shoes.”
The second half of the album does drag a bit. The Fratellis are unabashed experimenters, and it bites them every once in a while. The title track in particular comes out a little flat, but maybe it’s because of tambourine overkill?Closing track “Until She Saves My Soul” is likewise pedestrian compared to the rest of the album. Fortunately, a couple of other strong offerings precede them. “The Whiskey Saga” is an incongruous addition, but a very well done, countrified tearjerker. It also contains what sounds like an accelerated version of the bass groove from “Stray Cat Strut”… definitely not a bad thing. Finally, there’s a diamond in the second to last spot. “Rock n Roll Will Break Your Heart” should give you some Bowie flashbacks. It’s spacey, thoughtful and a great way to wind things down.