On Costello Music, The Fratellis sounded like a ragtag gang, churning out pint-hoisting anthems with anything goes charm and creativity. On their follow-up Here We Stand, it feels like they worked on this music, stepping out of the pub to smooth the edges off their songs and clean up their sound. This doesn’t always play to the band’s strengths — where their debut was effortless fun, Here We Stand is more effortful and less memorable.
Nothing here clicks like “Chelsea Dagger” or “Flathead” did; even though the album’s polish doesn’t diminish the Fratellis’ energy, bright, lively songs such as “Look Out Sunshine” and the ’60s throwback “Babydoll” are, strangely, not as catchy as they could be.
However, The Fratellis’ charm triumphs more than a few times on Here We Stand, especially when the band loosens up a little. “Shameless” lives up to its name, with jaunty riffs and cheeky lyrics (“Is it me, or are they getting younger every night?”); “Tell Me a Lie”‘s stomping glam punk choruses rival the White Stripes, and the single “Mistress Mabel” delivers on the pop potential the Fratellis try for elsewhere.
A few songs use Here We Stand‘s ambition and slickness to the band’s advantage: the surging, minor-key “My Friend John” turns the band’s irrepressible energy moody, and “A Heady Tale” boasts shifting tempos, layered percussion, and bouncy, Elton John-esque pianos that are one of the strongest ties to the ’70s rock obsession the band wore proudly throughout Costello Music. Meanwhile, “Acid Jazz Singer” shows that The Fratellis are developing as witty lyricists with surprisingly fleshed-out narratives. Like a lot of second albums that aren’t exactly a slump, Here We Stand is more accomplished than dynamic, but there are still quite a few enjoyable moments here.