The Fratellis, after 15 years filled with breakups and makeups, have arrived at their sixth album, Half Drunk Under a Full Moon. Their first album, Costello Music, took the world by storm as “Chelsea Dagger” became a sports anthem. Their next three had mixed results, but the new album is a definite work of art.
The brainchild of lead singer and frontman Jon Fratelli, the stage persona of singer-guitarist John Lawler, the album is assembled to near-perfection. It’s the result of a slow and steady departure from the Scottish rockabilly image with which the Fratellis got their start. Half Drunk Under a Full Moon creates a dreamlike feel for listeners, retaining catchy, folky aspects while gracing listeners with swaying melodies and playful drumming.
There are a lot of words to describe the musicality of this album: pop, rock, folk and at times honky-tonk. But genres can’t encompass the very nuanced nature of this album. It feels like floating through a half-drunk dream under a full moon, guiding listeners through echoing halls of music on a path of stars. There are metallic chimes with a thoughtful, sometimes electric and harmonic quality, and a spectrum of sounds that jump across genres and time. Delivering a listening experience akin to synesthesia, Jon Fratelli has touted the album as “by far the most colorful songs [he’s] ever written.”
The pace and structure of the album is rambling, but not in a negative way. It fluctuates between thoughtful ballads and upbeat, classically Fratellis folk-rock, accentuated by all the metaphorical and literal bells and whistles of their evolving sound. The album opens with the title track, “Half Drunk Under a Full Moon,” and paints a picture of the journey you’re about to embark on. It’s hazy, meditative, but also twinkling and theatrical. The delicate balance of instruments in the opener alone gives a hint as to how meticulously the album is composed, while the lyrics bounce from quotidian celebrity references to repetitive refrains that are reminiscent of a chant you’d hear in an amphitheater: “If you hear the music say yes.”
The album’s three singles are sprinkled throughout, and in many ways provide a summary for other themes found in the album. “Need A Little Love” gives a hazy kind of ’80s island vibe, with another easy-to-sing chorus. “Action Replay” feels in some ways deeply specific, and is playful with classic Fratellis-brand nonsensical lyrics that also, for some reason, make perfect sense. And “Six Days in June” will make long-time Fratellis fans happy, as it’s a much bigger and somewhat jazzier version of their old rockabilly tone, but with more instrumentation. The song mirrors the ethos of their first few albums, and simultaneously uncaps the potential of instrumentation, creating a highly polished frolic through their original sound.
For fans of Costello Music or Here We Stand, the band’s first two albums, there are songs like “Lay Your Body Down,” which has a folky rock feel that still exists in the dreamlike space in which the album exists. “The Last Songbird” and “Living In the Dark” likewise exist in this nostalgic-yet-polished realm, existing as both relatable and distant in their content. The latter appears to be a song about wanting to stay in a complicated relationship, but also touches on the nature of being born and being alive, a theme found throughout the entire album. These elements are all phrased with pithy lyrics like, “I will kiss your feet and praise your name/ If you sign my release form.” And “Oh Roxy,” a cute homage to the band’s habit of illustrating interesting female protagonists, serves advanced harmonies, flutes and strings.
“Strangers in the Street” and “Hello Stranger” feel strange in a way that’s both liminal and enlivening, like watching the sunrise from a half-drunk full moon. The varying moments in these songs, with their reflective cadence in chord progressions and beautiful effects over both instruments and vocals, feel like puzzle pieces fitting into one another. Though their music is fun and oftentimes lighthearted, the conclusion of Half Drunk Under a Full Moon shows that The Fratellis have another side that’s as deep as it is profound.