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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Album Review: Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

Album Rating: A-
Scott Hutchinson has earned his stripes as a candid, emotionally connected songwriter, and one need only read a handful of interviews to realise he scarcely differs away from the mic. Quizzed by my local freebie NARC concerning his band's relocation to major label Atlantic, the Frightened Rabbit mainman uttered a typically frank response, admitting "when you sign for a major label you do it for a reason; you want to further your career. We're not going to deny that." Commendable though they wore, those words were only eclipsed for fans by claims their imminent fourth album would evoke the bleak lyrical intensity of The Midnight Organ Fight, not to mention that it'd also mark their first foray into group-orientated songwriting - a significant development for an outfit which essentially began as its frontman's pet project.

In fact, one of the first things which becomes obvious upon listening to Pedestrian Verse is just what an effect this particular adjustment has had. Decidedly eclectic, it's a record which both polishes and updates their existing pallet, brushing up that core indie-folk sound with subtle amendments, most notably the inclusion of electronics and (*gasp!*) guitar solos. Along with a wonderfully crisp production job, it accounts for by far their most musically realised effort to date, albeit one which can occasionally give the impression of upbeatness; not something many would expect - or for that matter want - from Frightened Rabbit.

Luckily, any suspicion is all but offset by another lyrical masterclass - an aspect Hutchinson retains sole control over, and one which remains the centrepiece to his band's appeal. In the aforementioned conversation with NARC, the singer insisted he'd sought to write a "darker, even more intense and personal album than The Midnight Organ Fight," having become dissatisfied with the comparatively light nature of intervening LP The Winter Of Mixed Drinks. It might sound like a regression, but in reality it's anything but, especially scene as the perennial themes of depression and mortality are this time approached from a completely different perspective. Indeed whereas Organ Fight hit hard through wallowing in it's author's misery, Pedestrian Verse seemingly carries a tone of acceptance, whereby Hutchinson apparently comes to term with his demons and learns to embrace the joyless bastard he is (his words!).

It goes without saying this change in outlook hardly equates to a happy-clappy parade, but what it does culminate in is a collection of words which, even by his standards, are quite staggering. Perhaps the most striking example is token latter-day sucker punch "Nitrous Gas," whose use of bare naked expression and warped humour truly depict Hutchinson as a being bereft of all social charm. Belatedly warning "I'm dying to drag you down with me," his stance is aptly set with the confession "I'm dying to be unhappy again," until the final leveller "If happiness won't live with me / I think I can live with that / you can keep all your oxygen / hand me the nitrous gas" proves just about as cheerful a conclusion as one could hope for. This sense of perverse celebration is also present on "Dead Now," which amongst others drops the bombshell "I'm dead now, can you hear the relief? / as life's belligerent symphonies, finally cease," as well as "Holy," whose defiant refrain "I don't mind being lonely / because it feels like home / I'll never be holy / thank God I'm full of holes" essentially summarises the album's entire mantra. "The Oil Slick" on the other hand adds an entertaining twist to the leader's well-versed self-deprecation, asking "how could I talk of light and warmth? / I've got a voice like a gutter in a toxic storm / all the dark words pissing from my throat / sound like an oil slick coating the wings we've grown," and that's after claiming "only an idiot would swim through the shit I write" - a harsh assessment, but one unlikely to be heeded by the waiting masses.

Without doubt the record's defining feature, this balance of sarcasm and misery mongering ultimately proves responsible for some of his band's finest moments yet, and could prove invaluable come the scrutiny which tends to come with major label status. As well as inevitably being many listeners' introduction, Pedestrian Verse is also an LP which moves Frightened Rabbit to a new creative plateau, presenting material which, with a little patience, should delight existing enthusiasts as well as fulfill any commercial aspirations. It can be a delicate matter in musical circles, but fans can rest assured Hutchinson and company are furthering their careers in the most elegant manner possible.

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Pedestrian Verse is released on 4 February. Pre-order your copy here.

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Tracklist

1. Acts Of Man
2. Backyard Skulls
3. Holy
4. The Woodpile
5. Late March, Death March
6. December's Traditions
7. Housing (In)
8. Dead Now
9. State Hospital
10. Nitrous Gas
11. Housing (Out)
12. The Oil Slick


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