Written by Chris Osifchin
Some of the best albums ever created are meant to be taken as complete works of art. You’re supposed to listen to it straight through, all the tracks, and take it as a whole. But now more than ever, attention spans are shrinking and time is a-wastin’. It’s become laughably easy to pick a song you like and stick to it, or skip the ones you don’t want to hear and now it is less common to find artists create beautifully rendered albums meant for consideration as a single piece.
As with all humankind, artists also grow older – potentially more mature and wise. For The Fratellis, it seems they’ve hit their stride by returning to the root of their garage rock sound. Older? Yes. Wiser? Maybe. With their fourth album Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied, The Fratellis have delivered their best work since 2006’s Costello Music.
Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied heralds the return of producer Tony Hoffer, the same man who produced The Fratellis 2006 debut Costello Music. Returning to Hoffer seems to have been the right move because the band kicks ass from start to finish with an album that tells a complete story of seduction and betrayal.
In much the way that Springsteen’s Born To Run is meant to have taken place over the course of one long summer night, it seems that Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied is meant to be considered similarly. Musically, album opener “Me and the Devil” starts off subdued, like a man peering around the bar, searching for a prospective lover, building to a crescendo – he’s ready, but clearly longing for a woman he can’t have. It’s only in retrospect that he realized she’s the devil. It triggers a series of episodes in which he can’t quite figure out his feelings, but lust threatens to take control at any second.
‘Imposters (Little by Little)’ is a tasty lick, broiled in the type of Americana that The Fratellis have been aiming for since their debut. As the song sparkles down some unnamed Southern river, it’s as if the singer knows that both parties have to put on a front in order to make their love work. They’re both trying to convince themselves that there’s a spark. By and by a hopeful, if not naive, tune, but if rock and roll’s past has taught us anything, this won’t end well.
Following the imposter’s plea, “There’s nothing very much I wouldn’t do to be the last of the men that you romanced with,” and a declaration of truth-telling comes “Desperate Guy,” with what has to be this album’s thesis statement. Fratelli sings “I’m no loser, but I can’t win/I’m the right man in the wrong skin,” a sentiment that likely everyone has felt at some point in their lives. You try and you try, but you just don’t get anywhere with the one you love. Maybe The Fratellis feel like they’ve been friend-zoned since their debut and they’re trying their damndest to get into our hearts here.
“Thief” is where the album really takes a turn. We’re deep into the night, a few cocktails down. The frantic, jumping organ and guitar combine to give the impression that this roller coaster of love is not going to end well. She’s going “take whatever she must.” Whether that’s your soul (she is the aforementioned devil), your dignity, or your love is not entirely clear. It’s all a beautiful mess, which is when The Fratellis are truly creating their best sounds. The back end of Eyes Wide channels the controlled chaos of “Chelsea Dagger” and flips it into a catchy, undeniable statement of love.
With the album’s final two songs, the night is almost complete. The pop rock of The Fratellis is in full swing on the penultimate “Too Much Wine.” It’s clear that the singer has lost his control and now too much wine is his best friend. The woman is gone. He’s hurt. Pain has never felt so good, as the band channels the California pep of Cheap Trick.
“Moonshine” closes out Eyes Wide with a beautiful, placid presence. The night is over. You can just imagine the drunken stupor – sitting near the edge of a moonlit lake in a muggy Southern summer. The classic rock trope of “my baby left me” is excellently co-opted. The singer is on his last legs, ready to pass out drunk after he “bet my whole life on this useless design.” Another night, another strikeout. It’s such a classic letdown, with it’s major 7th chords and slow, slinking cadence that it lifts the entire album up.
A beautifully written album, Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied deserves to be recognized as a significant achievement for The Fratellis, and the current garage rock revival. They’ve moved beyond their modest past and delivered an album worthy of some serious earplay.