Tuesday, February 5, 2013

REVIEW: Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

There are at least two times when a band's career arc gets a bit more scrutiny than other times.  One is the delicate sophomore album.  The other is the first album after a jump to a major label.  Scotland's Frightened Rabbit more than passed the first of those examinations with the highly praised 2008 The Midnight Organ Fight.  The time for the second examination is nigh, as February 4 brought the major label release of  Pedestrian Verse, the band's fourth LP and first for Atlantic Records.  And this latter test is the bigger one, in part because the band wasn't well known before 2008.  But even more because those that felt that The Winter of Mixed Drinks, their third album, was a bit overproduced and sterile compared to The Midnight Organ Fight might wonder whether a larger production budget and major label pressures would further remove the band from the emotional intensity and immediacy and corresponding raw presentation that originally drew them to the band.

To my ears, Frightened Rabbit has easily passed the second test.  Pedestrian Verse includes the slow-fast, loud-soft dynamics, anthemic choruses and aching vocals that their long time fans demand of them (and that the band does so well).  And digging a bit deeper, the lyrical content moves somewhat away from the more general focus of  The Winter of Mixed Drinks and towards the more brutal and confessional approach of The Midnight Organ Fight.  This can only be regarded as a positive, as this is the space in which chief songwriter Scott Hutchison excels, combining his talent with turning a phrase with his penchant for meshing his emotions and observations into musical paintings for all to share.  Raw nerves, tears, and redemption shared with all.  While the production is full, it isn't distracting.  Whether that means there is less production, or more focused production I don't know, but the result is welcome.  It is my sense that overall this album is a disciplined affair from the conception to the finish, only using what serves and supports the song.

As is the case with any album, some songs speak more to the listener than others.  In my case, I'm especially fond of "Housing (in)" and "Housing (out)", the songs about returning from and leaving to go on tour, "State Hospital", "Holy", "December's Traditions" and, most especially, the glorious "Woodpile".  Two of them are available to stream below --

While Pedestrian Verse reveals a band that is playing to its strengths, it shouldn't be regarded as a retrenchment.  The focus has gone into the songwriting and performances.  The outcome includes the flesh and blood intimacy, and innate sincerity, of their past work and simply makes it more accessible, and less idiosyncratic.   And all of that results in what I believe to be their best, and by a great length their most consistent, album to date.  It is the statement of a band that has grown, and expects to continue growing.

Frightened Rabbit are Scott Hutchison, Grant Hutchison, Billy Kennedy, Andy Monaghan, and Gordon Skene.

My final comment addresses an ethical dilemma   If reports are accurate, Scott's best lyrical output has occurred during and/or just after a romantic break up.  As Frightened Rabbit fans, that puts us in an uncomfortable position.  We don't want to wish misfortune to anyone, but we do want our music.

Twitter ( @ FRabbits )

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