Although casual observers will understandably deem this Detroit quartet power pop, The Fletcher Pratt upheld its city’s gritty heritage by not being saccharine dinks. The marshmallow sweets on Nine by Nine (which retrieves some of the eight songs from the brief 1999 mini-album) come wrapped around a craggy rock that leaves bloody scratches rather than a throbbing tooth. Guitarists George Dubber (urgent, keening voice with a bit of a Marc Bolan wiggle) and Stephen Palmer (more of a gruff Paul Weller bawler) write and sing diverse tunes that balance sardonic wit with sweet sentimentality and infuse the whole shebang with breathless energy that positively kicks melodic ass. They each sing lead, but share refrains and choruses to fine effect, egging each other on with skilled abandon.
Suspended in the ether between ’60s British Invasion and ’80s post-punk aggro, Nine by Nine is a gem made all the more potent by the band’s audible enthusiasm, countless bits of inventive business (tremolo and chukka-chukka guitar accents on “Spin Label”; an Elvis Costello coda on “Living in the House”; a Beatle lick on “16 Days (Unsteady)”) and Al Sutton’s rough’n’tumble production. “Electrocute” is a roaring joy that opens the album with the quizzical triplet “Electrocute my mind/Take away my time/Do just what you want to” and contains a gorgeous bridge; “Spin Label” stomps like a bull with a hotfoot; the charming “Satellite” breaks up a dinky three-chord romance (complete with handclaps) that wouldn’t challenge the skills of a Trio cover band by inserting a tricky bridge that turns the song inside out, leaving the verses and chorus as the light relief, not the heavy lifters. It goes on like that for three-quarters of an hour, exceeding expectations at every turn. A stupendous debut that ended the band’s recording career. After replacing bassist Joe Lavis with Patti Smith’s son Jackson for some touring, The Fletcher Pratt called it quits in early 2002.
For collectors of such curios, the late Fletcher Pratt was the author of numerous short stories, books of historical fact and fantasy.