Enjoyable revivalist fare from The Fratellis frontman and friends.
Mike Diver 2009
A collaboration between Glasgow-based singer Lou Hickey and The Fratellis frontman Jon Lawler (plus numerous session musicians), Codeine Velvet Club aim to celebrate the music of an era most regular gig-goers of today will have little knowledge of: the big-band-led, all-swinging ‘n’ dancing sound of Hollywood’s post-war years, as well as a splash of classic soul boy-girl duets.
If that reads as a little reminiscent of the M.O. of Alex Turner and Miles Kane’s The Last Shadow Puppets, then your expectations are in check, as this collection is evocative indeed of the Arctic Monkey and his mate’s not-so-little side project. But while the Shadow Puppets emerged at a time when Turner’s day job were doing perfectly well profile wise, the better-known protagonist of this pairing doesn’t enjoy a similar level of acclaim. The Fratellis might’ve clicked with a certain strain of indie fan with 2006 debut Costello Music, but 2008’s Here We Stand was rightly recognised for what it was: a not very memorable record from a band whose hits sounded best when belted out on football terraces. Lawler’s recent work is adrift of critical favour, so this album is sure to slip straight into some writers’ rejects pile.
Which would be a shame, frankly. As while this eponymous collection features no truly remarkable moments to recommend it above the best records from the period it plunders for inspiration, it is an enjoyably fuss-free and tensions-lifting listen. At its best, particularly on mid-album peak Nevada, it adopts a widescreen aesthetic that obscures any compositional shortcomings by simply setting all levels to gorgeous. Closer (Stone Roses cover aside) Begging Bowl Blues has heart to balance its histrionics, and Little Sister is a barroom stomp that’s a slightly cranky but loveable cousin of Elbow’s superb Grounds for Divorce. And Hickey is brilliant throughout, her range not the greatest but her delivery never lacking in spirit; if nothing else, this album showcases her talent quite wonderfully, and could set her solo star in ascendance.
As for Lawler, he’s clawed back respect lost with that dull second Fratellis album, and can stand somewhat proud that Codeine Velvet Club does exceed expectations. It’s not rocket science stuff, but it was never meant to be, and just goes to prove that Lawler is the sort of songwriter who’s at his best going forward while keeping an eye (and ear) on the past.