Sunday, September 9, 2012

Album Review: Frightened Rabbit - State Hospital (EP)

EP Rating: B+
Everyone has a dream collaboration; a pair of artists who, in some misplaced reality converge purely for the sake of that listener with appropriately mind-blowing consequences. It's a romantic concept, but one which rarely comes to fruition, partly because musicians can't pamper to the needs of every last fan, and partly because the results in practice scarcely live up to the fanciful standards built in one's imagination. Even so, the lure of such endeavours remains strong, so strong it'd be inhuman not to feel some form of excitement on the odd occasion when one does crop up. You'll forgive me then for losing my metaphorical shit upon discovering that Frightened Rabbit's eagerly awaited comeback EP was to be rounded off with an appearance from the master of the dark arts himself, Mr. Aidan John Moffat.

Seriously, it doesn't get any better than this; the weathered king of sodden Scottish misery joining forces with the cream of the current crop, singing about the grotty, awkward sex they both obsess over. It is pretty much my perfect partnership, and I feel as though I owe the two parties a debt for having the benevolence to make it happen.

However, as sure as rain in their nation's summer, "Wedding Gloves" winds up falling a little flat. It's not bad by any means, but it does carry a distinct whiff of cut 'n' paste which didn't form part of my fantasy vision. The beginning oozes promise, with Moffat's lurid, monotonous drawl set against an ominous, pulsing bassline to bone-quivering effect. Scott Hutchinson's entrance, however, sees everything fall apart, with the track veering off on a tangent and leaving the former Arab Strap man's contributions in the cold (a few of those signature 'cocks' and 'cunts' may have helped!). A slightly underwhelming product from such an inviting match, the four slabs of pure Frabbit excellence which precede it are nevertheless more than enough to atone for any lingering sense of disappointment.

Having 'grown tired' of the relatively light themes which dominated 2010's Winter Of Mixed Drinks, recent sessions have seen Hutchinson and his band revert to the intensely personal narrative of their earlier work by way of reaction. It's a shift which pays instant and startling dividends, with this particular group of songs representing the darkest, most harrowing material they've yet put to tape. Truthfully, one or two of them do sound a little scrappy and unfinished, but even the most fundamental faults are papered over by the sheer weight of wondrous woe poured into every last seam. As you'd imagine, the founding frontman is right in the thick of this, but it'd be wrong to give him all the credit when these cuts do in fact mark the first time he's opened the songwriting table to outside contributions. This new way of working still holds plenty of room for improvement, but the fact that it's proving beneficial even at this early stage is cause for real optimism.

Anyone looking for definitive proof it can prosper need look no further than this EP's opening gambit. Whereas most of these cuts were deemed unsuitable for the band's forthcoming album, "State Hospital" itself is set for inclusion, a solid choice given it's a cut above everything else here. Rivalling The Midnight Organ Fight in both lyrical and musical intensity, its desperation is focused and structured like never before, a feature which along with the vibrant melodicism renders it among their most impressive compositions to date.

More where that came from would most certainly be welcome; and in spite of its various imperfections, State Hospital is a release which only gives off positive signs. Far from a bunch of hopeless rejects, these songs will do more than words ever could in whetting fan's appetites for the upcoming full-length, providing a brief peak as to its direction and setting a standard it must surely exceed. Theoretically, the fact that "Boxing Night" and "Home From War" were overlooked suggests that Hutchinson and co. have a batch of even finer cuts waiting in the wings - tantalising hints that another masterpiece could well be on its way.

If only "Wedding Gloves" had turned out better...


State Hospital is released on September 24. You can pre-order the EP on various formats from Frightened Rabbit's official website.



1. State Hospital
2. Boxing Night
3. Home From War
4. Off
5. Wedding Gloves (featuring Aidan Moffat)

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