Friday, September 23, 2011

Music Album Review: Psycho Jukebox by Jon Fratelli

Has Jon Fratelli gone from Glasgow to Vegas? No; he’s moved across the street, but it doesn’t matter, it’s a damn good album.
Psycho Jukebox was released two months ago, and is Jon Fratelli’s debut album. This isn’t his first venture into music however, you may be more familiar with a band he fronted a few years, called The Fratellis. The band have been put on hiatus for a few years now, and since then Jon Fratelli formed a duo with a lady called Lou Hickey, and they called themselves the Codeine Velvet Club. After that, Jon Fratelli started to hint at a solo career, before going to Los Angeles to start working on a solo album. ”Psycho Jukebox” is the result of that project.

Starting with the extremely simple and catchy “Tell Me Honey”, Jon Fratelli’s debut work feels like familiar territory. The brit-pop/punk hybrid elements are there, and to put simply, if the song was stamped with “The Fratellis” rather than “Jon Fratelli” you wouldn’t have known any different. It’s a great track, one of the best on the album and is very typical of Jon’s previous work with his previous band.

We then continue on with “Daddy Won't Pay Your Bill", which starts to show a slightly different side to Jon’s repertoire. It’s a softer sound; there’s more of an indie sound in the music and there’s an added sincerity to the vocals he uses. Not to say there’s been no sincerity in his music before; there are certain tracks in his previous work that encompasses this trait, it’s just that he doesn’t often keep the upbeat tempo to his music whilst doing so, where as he does just that in this song. The track nicely combines a topic of a stern nature with a certain amount of affection. One thing I’ve always loved about Jon Fratelli is his fantastic raspy voice, and it’s definitely on show here.

Track three is the first single off the album, “Santo Domingo”, which was actually released earlier in the year in February. This is a track that could have easily fit into the nineties, with its Brit-Pop elements, something that I personally have associated with Jon’s previous band The Fratellis many times. Both The Fratellis, and in certain cases in this album, there is this odd feeling of familiarity with music fifteen years ago. That’s not a criticism, it’s an observation. “Santo Domingo” regardless is a great song, rightfully chosen as one of the singles for its cheeriness.

"Rhythm Doesn't Make You a Dancer", track four, is definitely an eclectic sound for Jon Fratelli. It’s a very bumpy track, yet it’s really cool as well. The chorus sounds great and there’s a decent guitar solo in there as well. One of my personal favourite tracks is “She’s My Shaker”, track seven, as it just sounds like a proper little indie anthem. There chorus is simple again. “And they went la la la la la, la la la-la la...”, yet it sounds fricking awesome. There’s nothing diverse really about the sound of the song, yet catchy songs like this just make me happy personally. One thing I will say about the track is that the lyrics are very reminiscent of the type of lyrics used probably in the sixties, mixing innuendo with happiness, to cover up the true meaning of the track. It’s a quality song.

The albums true moment of shine really is “Baby, We’re Refugees!”, track eight, which was the second single off the album. If “She’s My Shaker” was anthem-like, then this song is a true winner. It’s the shortest track on the album, as it has a verse, a bridge, another verse, a pre-chorus and then the chorus. The verses build the song up really nicely for the climatic chorus, which is a pure chant of “carry me home, carry me home, carry me…” It’s just a piece of excellence, simple excellence at that really shows how Jon Fratelli can create great music at times with considerable ease.

I read a few of the reviews for this album before showcasing my thoughts on it. I was quite surprised to see many critics showing mixed reviews for the material on show. The main criticism is that Jon Fratelli claims to have changed his sound; put more of his personal touch to the music, which many critics have disagreed with. On the whole, I agree, he hasn’t changed dramatically what was essentially The Fratellis. You could put a stamp on most of the tracks with the The Fratellis and no one would bat an eyelid. That isn’t a criticism for me in terms of the quality of the music however. The music on this album is great, I thoroughly enjoyed this album. But… has Jon Fratelli created a different sound? A sound he’s never been associated with before? On the whole, the answer is no. There is however, a very discrete touch to the music on offer that has an influence from other eras and genres. As I said “She’s My Shaker” lyrically, could have easily have been written a good fifty years ago. There are other examples too, track ten, “Oh Shangri La", definitely has a Vegas/Presley feel to it. It’s one of the more diverse tracks, with a lot of rock ‘n’ roll feeling in it, particularly from the early to mid seventies. You could make an argument that “Cavemen”, track eight, has a certain twinge of The Doors in there, lyrically and in certain phases musically, although for the most part it’s just a typical indie track. The final track off the album, "Sometimes You Just Can't Win", starts with a piano that is not too dissimilar to “Let it Be” by The Beatles, but then it just turns into a song that sounds exactly like the final track off “Here We Stand”, the second Fratellis album, which was called “Milk and Money”, apart from “Milk and Money” for me personally is a much better quality track and the song changes its tempo turns a bit buoyant for the finale.

All in all this is a great album. It’s actually for me, my summer album, I listened to it more than any other album over the past two months and I take pride in that. It’s fantastic. But the main problem here lies in the message that Jon Fratelli has conveyed. It’s not a different sound to The Fratellis. It’s an extension of that project. More proof is that he has since recruited Mince Fratelli, the drummer from the band. Also Tony Hoffer, the producer, worked on The Fratelli’s debut album. Only Barry Fratelli, on bass, is missing really. I don’t want this to be a criticism. The material on show here is of decent quality, on a personal level it’s only a notch down from The Fratellis as a band. I thoroughly enjoy this album and Jon Fratelli is a very talented man, it’s a credit to him in a certain way that he made an album without the help of his previous band mates (Mince didn’t work on the album, he’s there for touring) that is of such good class. But the message is incorrect, because on the whole, this isn’t a break in musical change; it’s an expansion from The Fratellis.

In theory what Jon Fratelli is saying is that he’s gone from Glasgow to Vegas, but in reality, he’s just moved house across the street. But don’t let that taint anything on show, because what is available is grand, and I thoroughly recommend you give it a try if you like The Fratellis.

Rating: ****1/4 stars
Stand out tracks: “Baby, We're Refugees!”, “She's My Shaker”, “Santo Domingo”

Here's the music video for "Baby, We're Refugees!":


  1. why no mention of magic and mayhem? absolutely brilliant song lyrics-wise, tis bob's fave and in my top 3 might need to give it a proper listen to appreciate it properly tho :)
    my fave 3: magic & mayhem, baby we're refugees, rhythm doesnt make you a dancer

  2. It's actually one of my least favourites on the album, along with "Cavemen". Each to their own =)

  3. Lol. I'm not at all surprised bout that Mo, you were never one for those deep meaningful songs :P (joke!)

  4. p.s Baby we're refugees has always been my fave, i heard it and was all like "AHHHHHH!!" and have been ever since :P