Frightened Rabbit’s major label debut reins in the anthems, and – despite being written in the midst of heartbreak – is even a bit less gloomy than usual
Frightened Rabbit: Pedestrian Verse
Star rating: * * *
A SCOTTISH band with a determination to stick to their guns, work from the ground up and tour religiously, releasing three independent albums which have garnered a passionate, grassroots fanbase in preparation for the projected leap into the mainstream … no, we’re not talking about Biffy Clyro – that was last week’s album. This week, it’s all about Frightened Rabbit, as they take their first bow in the major label spotlight.
Like Biffy, there is ambition behind their nice-guy humility. The Glasgow-based band have admitted themselves that they tried to force the anthems by creating a big sound on previous album The Winter Of Mixed Drinks without the songwriting heft at the core. Well, they are hardly alone in that – Coldplay have presided over an epidemic of empty epics in the past decade and even the esteemed Arcade Fire are not immune to the curse of the hollow anthem.
Pedestrian Verse aspires to keep a tighter rein and there are a number of interesting inflections over the course of the album, such as the tantalising ripples of analogue keyboards on Backyard Skulls, reminiscent of cult US indie acts such as Grandaddy and Grizzly Bear, or the muscular Peter Hook-style bassline which drives Holy inexorably forward.
For the first time, frontman Scott Hutchison is not the sole songwriter. These songs were forged on the road, becoming truly band efforts. Hutchison, meanwhile, was determined to broaden his gloomy lyrical outlook – but then he broke up with his girlfriend, ensuring that there will probably always be a part of a Frightened Rabbit album that is forever heartbroken and self-recriminating. Still, you’ve got to write about what you’ve got to write about, and at least Pedestrian Verse fleshes out the romantic trauma with a generous smattering of religion and death. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a stormy ride.
Hutchison is intent on drawing in the listener from the very first line of opening track Acts Of Man. “I am that dickhead in the kitchen, giving wine to your best girl’s glass” is a great scene-setter – that’s probably what comes from hanging out with Aidan Moffat. But Hutchison is looking in on the reprehensible behaviour of blokes rather than perpetrating it. To a big but spacious soundtrack of sombre piano, purposeful, resonant drumming and distorted guitar, he goes into some pretty dark places (“the knight in shitty armour rips a drunk out of her dress”) before reaching the tentative, hopeful and somewhat disingenuous conclusion that “I’m here, not heroic – but I try”. Yeah, girls – stop falling for the boorish shits of the world and try a sensitive student for a change.
Much of Pedestrian Verse sounds like familiar Frightened Rabbit fare – the strident indie folk of December’s Traditions, for example, or Late March, Death March, whose rousing rootsy uplift married to religious imagery recalls the Mumfords’ stock approach to their last album.
They also share more than a work ethic with Biffy Clyro – although they don’t possess their pummelling presence, they can happily muster a proud, rousing slab of Celtrock such as The Woodpile, which recalls Big Country minus the bagpipe guitars. And they do enjoy a spot of hardcore anguish.
State Hospital is a misery memoir of a song about a girl “born into a grave” and potentially destined to end up with one of the charmers portrayed in Acts Of Man. Again, hope is ushered in at the last gasp with the words “all is not lost”, but does it all have to be so serious?
No, as it happens. While those in a dark frame of mind will arguably glean most from this album, there is a strain of black humour on a couple of songs. The lyrics are never more indulgent than on Dead Now – altogether now: “Can you hear the relief as life’s belligerent symphony’s finally ceased?” – but a few lines later, the rampant self-pity is tempered by this little tonic: “If we can’t bring an exorcist, I’ll settle for one of your stiffest drinks.”
Hutchison practically satirises his love of a wallow with the line “shut down the gospel singers and turn up the old heartbreakers” on Nitrous Gas and definitely knows what he’s doing when he sings “I’m dying to bring you down with me”.
The Oil Slick, a relatively chipper song about songwriting, is even more self-aware: “I’ve got a voice like a gutter in a toxic storm”. It’s as if Hutchison is conscious that he could ruin it all with his chest-beating angst when he concludes that “only an idiot would swim through the shit I write”. It’s not the most ringing endorsement of his band’s album but it’s a relief to go out on a knowing smile.