Stephen Fretwell - Man on the Roof
If you're one of the terrorists (and, let's face it, that's what you are) who've conspired with fellow terrorists to get James Blunt to number one in the mid-week album chart, then shame on you! And lots of it. Anyone who doesn't want to inflict Blunty's own special kind of sonic pain and suffering might do well to investigate Stephen Fretwell's recent release, Man on the Roof. Remember him? He's the Manchester-based troubador who had a semi-hit in 2005 with Emily, lifted from his 2004 album Magpie. No? Well, Fretwell circa 2007 has delivered on his promise with a solid second collection of songs.
While nothing here cements itself as an immediate classic like former single New York, Fretwell has honed his craft on these fourteen tracks. He's at his best when the acoustic guitar and vocals take the lead, although tracks like Scar and She take a more layered approach aiming for the radio, the latter even sounding like Parachutes-era Coldplay. Having moved to New York, he's developed something of an obsession with America - or, perhaps more accurately, American women - as apparent on Coney and San Francisco Blues. You have to forgive Fretwell's unoriginal subject matter, the ol' go-to topic for singer/songwriters that is 'pining over the ladies', especially when he opts for a bitter deconstruction of past affairs over bland sentimentality. He chances sounding like the sad case, 'face down in the quart of gin' (see Bumper Cars) at closing hour in some dodgy bar. However, when this leads to wistful and bittersweet tracks of Darlin' Don't and The Ground Beneath Your Feet's calibre, two of this album's best, then the risk is more than worth it.
He doesn't always get it right, mind. The Scheme and Saturday sound like rough sketches of larger songs, while a couple of these larger songs themselves (see Bumper Cars and Sleep) could have been kept aside as potential B-sides without anyone minding. When he finds his stride, though, his songs sound like you've never been without them, his emotional honesty allowing him to get away with lines like 'I want to hold onto you darling/And make you feel alright'. Whether he's lamenting his doomed partnership with the gal in the 'pretty red dress' (Now) or the famous ex whose songs he hears on the radio (Funny Hat), Fretwell trumps the Blunts of this world with no effort at all. Take that, terrorists!