This was a very important release for Frightened Rabbit. After the universal critical acclaim that was bestowed upon Midnight Organ Fight for its achingly honest lyrical display and delicate musicianship, the Selkirk group somewhat stumbled with their follow up, The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Production felt too grandiose for the message, and the message seemed less sincere than before; the struggles of having a larger (and more expectant) fanbase had evidently taken their toll on song-writing mastermind Scott Hutchison. Thankfully, Pedestrian Verse is a welcome return to the core sensibilities that made the group so revered in the first place.
Despite stripping away much of the debris that cluttered The Winter of Mixed Drinks and going ‘back to basics’, there has actually been a huge evolution in the way Frightened Rabbit operates. Pedestrian Verse marks the first time that song-writing responsibilities have been shared by the entire band. Whilst this news was met with a certain degree of trepidation prior to release, lyrical duties have remained solely in the clutches of Hutchison, and this, with the burden of micro-management lifted from his shoulders, results in a staggering cauldron of pain, acceptance and honesty, sweetened by the same charm and self-deprecating humour that we found on Midnight Organ Fight – ‘Only an idiot would swim through the shit I write’ he croons on the fantastic closer ‘The Oil Slick’, a song about his desire to pen a love song but deciding he doesn’t have the voice for it.
This shift in writing process has also allowed for more sonic experimentation from the rest of the band; they are no longer just a pleasant indie-folk backdrop to Hutchison’s grief, but a deliberate, eclectic vehicle. There are whistles, guitar solos, electronic bleeps and a whole raft of other hits and rattles that add up to create a ‘fuller’ sound than on previous albums. The overall feel of Pedestrian Verse is also surprisingly upbeat, even when Hutchison is at his most morbid, and the general tempo is a little quicker in pace. This contrast is initially difficult to adjust to, but with repeated listens comes a genuine appreciation. That’s not to say that there has a been a complete metamorphosis in sound though; Nitrous Gas, State Hospital and Backyard Skulls are all very ‘traditional’ (and brilliant) Frightened Rabbit songs in aural composition. This is a band treading new territory, but with the experience to know how to step carefully. Of the 12 tracks, only the overly poppy ‘Holy’ and plodding ‘Dead Now’ fail to fully resonate; neither really managing to get out of first gear.
Musical development aside, Hutchison’s lyrical ability remains the central focus and key appeal of the band. Themes of depression, mortality and expectation are nothing inherently new in his topical spectrum, but its certainly impressive that he is able to continually articulate them so viscerally without repeating himself. There are dozens upon dozens of examples which made me shake my head with both envy and startled admiration. ‘The half back-flip conception, a state hospital birth / the most threadbare tall story the country’s ever heard / brought home to breathe smoke in the arms of her mother’ on ‘State Hospital’. ‘Come find me now, we’ll hide out, we’ll speak in our secret tongues’ on ‘The Woodpile ‘. ‘And if happiness won’t live with me / think I can live with that / you can keep all of your oxygen / hand me the nitrous gas’ on ‘Nitrous Gas’. And, with a wry smile, the very first line of the album – ‘I am the dickhead in the kitchen, giving wine to your best girls glass’ on ‘Acts of Man’.
Indeed, Pedestrian Verse is an album stuffed with diverse melodies, mature pacing, emotional highs (and lows) and lyrical genius. It might not initially pack quite the same gut-wrenching punch that Midnight Organ Fight did upon release, but it might well be their most mature and it will almost definitely rank as their most varied. The subtle adjustments in pitch and tone, married with Hutchison’s weary sentiment and polished production make Pedestrian Verse nothing short of a triumph. In one final twist, the words ‘We’ve still got hope so I think we’ll be fine / In these disastrous times, disastrous times’ followed by the sound of chirping birds close out the album – perhaps a metaphor for Hutchison’s cautious optimism, or perhaps another one of those wry, ironic smiles.
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