The Fratellis, 'Here We Stand' (Cherrytree/Interscope)

5
Here We Stand
Critical Mass
Label: Cherrytree /Interscope

by Jon Young

It's called "the difficult second album" for good reason. Use your best ideas on the first record or there may not be another chance. Then what? Repeat yourself, evolve, or panic? Though hardly a disaster, the sophomore effort by the Fratellis shows one way that things can veer off track.

Last year's Costello Music was an exciting intro to the Scottish trio, unleashing a blast of cheeky guitar pop that suggested a less accomplished Arctic Monkeys or Supergrass. For whatever reason -- newfound maturity, loss of nerve, a misguided craving for more mainstream fans -- Here We Stand lacks the pizzazz of its predecessor. Producing themselves, the boys opt for a fuller sound that sands off all the rough edges, not to mention slowing the beat just enough to minimize any implications of barroom rowdiness. More's the pity, because there's strong, catchy material here. The country-tinged "Baby Doll" tugs heartstrings the way a corny love song should, while the soaring "look Out Sunshine!" could pass for early Bowie in bubblegum mode. If only the performances didn't feel so cautiously calculated.

It would be interesting to hear these songs played by a sloppier band that cared more about making noise than building a career. (Did placement in an iPod ad give the Fratellis delusions of commercial grandeur?) Here We Stand is tantalizing, but that's all.

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