Review of Pedestrian Verse Album by Frightened Rabbit

Having created what many see as your definitive statement, coup de grace, or indeed whatever kind of superlative adjective numerous commentators choose to bestow on such a grandiose artefact, its difficult to envisage from where the next spate of divine inspiration will emerge. Certainly that was a fate Frightened Rabbit found themselves faced with not so long back. When second album 'The Midnight Organ Fight' dropped in 2008, it heralded their arrival as contenders for major league status. Oozing in dark, self-referential lyrics amid a musical backdrop capable of switching from the full-on dichotomy of 'Fast Blood' to the stripped down bleakness contained within 'My Backwards Walk' or 'The Modern Leper'. It wasn't so much the sound of a band reaching maturity but more about discovering a new found confidence to bare all; flesh, blood and soul; for the sake of something called art.

Frightened Rabbit Pedestrian Verse Album

Which brings us onto the next chapter. Not so much maligned, but certainly a minor disappointment given the weight of expectation surrounding its arrival, 2010's follow-up 'The Winter Of Mixed Drinks' proved to be something of mixed bag in comparison to its predecessor. Initially more immediate than 'The Midnight Organ Fight', from a musical perspective at any rate, it somehow failed to convey the same emotions as their previous record and in hindsight feels as though it were a deliberate attempt to rid the band of the "dour miserablists" tags many observers had adorned them with. 

So here we are, a further three years having passed for what marks a brand new chapter of new beginnings in the Frightened Rabbit story. Now fully fledged major label artists, having parted ways with Brighton independent Fat Cat on completion of 'The Winter Of Mixed Drinks', the final contractual obligation with their former suitors. They've also severed ties with long term associate Peter Katis, producer of their last two records and partly responsible for honing the band's distinguishable sound, if not identity. In his place is Leo Abrahams whose recent credits include David Byrne & Brian Eno's 'Everything That Happens Will Happen Today', a record he also co-wrote and played on several tracks. What Abrahams seems to have augmented is a looser, less stifled climate for the band to operate in. What entails is an at times free-flowing vehicle; musically at any rate; for some of Frightened Rabbit's most unravelling prose thus far.

The new-found optimism relayed on 'The Winter Of Mixed Drinks' also appears to have taken a back seat. Main songwriter Scott Hutchison having already declared much of 'Pedestrian Verse' to have been written around the time his last relationship broke up, it's fair to say parts of the record rival 'The Midnight Organ Fight' in the uneasy listening stakes. From the moment opener 'Acts Of Man' declares "One knight in shitty armour hides a coward's heart in a lion's chest," it's clear 'Pedestrian Verse' isn't going to be a happy-go-lucky affair. Building on a simple piano introduction, Grant Hutchison's percussion driving the song to its musically uptempo conclusion, there's a cynical belief that Frightened Rabbit are at their immeasurable best when misery takes hold of their personal lives.

Amusingly and somewhat unfairly compared to the likes of Snow Patrol and Coldplay in the past; one feels Gary Lightbody would kill for something as drivingly infectious as 'Backyard Skulls' or lyrically cutting as "In so-called living rooms Scottish pastimes come to roost" from 'December's Traditions'; it's also easy to see why some casual observers would dispense them in the same categories as that inferior pair of dullards. Indeed, the ambiguous nature of Frightened Rabbit's often radio-friendly melodies tends to mask the more sinister elements of Scott Hutchison's play on words.

Take 'Dead Now' for example, Hutchison romanticising about the past ("There's something wrong with me, but its nothing you couldn't treat") then eulogising it to the present, evidently displayed within the song's title. Closing number 'The Oil Slick' also contains some of Frightened Rabbit's most startling imageries to date, Hutchison depicting "A love story drifting out of my reach." over a winsome shuffle that wouldn't sound out of place on Fern Cotton's daytime radio playlist.

Of course they're only the tip of a disparate, and at times inconsolable iceberg. 'Holy' for instance quickens the pace to a pulsating gallop, exemplifying the band's errant diversity to an impeccable tee. Likewise forthcoming single 'The Woodpile', given an orchestral makeover yet still incisively bare amidst barbed asides about being "removed from the red meat market." Despite the underlying sense of despair throughout the record, 'Pedestrian Verse' never falls into a self-pitying, apologetic trap of its own making either. 'Nitrous Gas' delivers Hutchison's most maudlin three minutes to date ("I'm dying to be unhappy again") into the cataclysmic interlude of 'Hospital (out)', almost forgetting itself in the process.

In summary, 'Pedestrian Verse' can perhaps best be described as the sound of Frightened Rabbit doing what they do best. Just how many more fall outs and break-ups Scott Hutchison can through to continue the cycle remains to be seen, but for now this is up there alongside 'The Midnight Organ Fight' as one of the band's finest collections to date.

Dom Gourlay



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