Album Reviews

Stephen Fretwell – Man On The Roof

(Polydor) UK release date: 10 September 2007

In one of the standout tracks on his debut album, Stephen Fretwell announced he was going to New York and “fuck what they say”. Keeping his promise this Scunthorpe songwriter made his way to the Big Apple to record this cracking collection of songs with producer Eli Janney.

Man On The Roof contains the same melancholy storytelling as its predecessor, but this time Fretwell appears to be maturing even further beyond his years. He is also joined by other musicians and the result is a more robust selection of songs about life, redemption, love and adultery.

There are no airs and graces – this is simple unpretentious songwriting brought to life by the surprising effectiveness of Fretwell’s breathless vocals. Comparisons to Damien Rice have been made in the past but at times Man On The Roof sounds like Leonard Cohen using Alex Turner‘s lyrics and the effect is quite special.

If you’ve been fortunate to catch him performing live this year most of these songs will be very familiar.The album announces itself with the fairground sway of Coney, the story of a girl longing to leave the fairground life but eventually succumbing. It’s a vivid merry-go-round of an opener and sticks in your head with its boom-cha-cha-boom chorus.

Several of the tracks on this album benefit from a backing band, cranking Fretwell’s songwriting up a notch from what we’re previously come to expect. The introduction of different musicians lends an agreeable texture to proceedings that contrast effectively with the more lone moments such as The Scheme.

The Ground Beneath Your Feet is outstanding and is arguably the finest song on this album. It’s very beautiful and is certain to bring a lump to even the most testosterone heavy listener. The penultimate track, San Francisco Blues is equally magical and perhaps hints at a possible studio location for album number three.

The album concludes with the wonderful, but oddly titled William Shatner’s Dog, a track previously included on his Four Letter Words EP. It’s a story of an affair gone awry and thankfully has absolutely nothing to do with the aforementioned Captain Kirk.

There are a few minor tracks that don’t bury themselves in your conciseness as much as the highlights, but even though you might not be humming them immediately afterwards, for the duration of the songs you will find yourself rapt with attention.

This is an intimate, mature and moving selection of songs. Following Magpie’s solo sounds it’s good to see Fretwell beginning to collaborate and grow in confidence. All the signs are good. Man on the Roof is a great album but his next will surely be a masterpiece.

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More on Stephen Fretwell
Interview: Stephen Fretwell
Stephen Fretwell – Man On The Roof
Stephen Fretwell @ St James’s Church, London