, February 5th, 2013 05:28
Cometh the hour, cometh the bun-bun; whispers have been building for years that Frightened Rabbit's time must be nigh. Soon, the juncture when things finally align for their complex anthems, their tunes with teeth, brains and hearts and big soaring choruses your dad would like (OK, my dad, and yes, he is Scottish) must arrive.
Seriously, though, this has to be it. Having been rebuffed by Fiction Records at the 11th hour for their debut Sing The Greys, the Frabbits went their own way on Brighton indie FatCat, and only now on album four Pedestrian Verse, with a rock-solid, built-the-old-fashioned way following, are they putting their trust back in a major's oomph, on their own terms. As many have noted, it's the same point at which Biffy Clyro went major in every sense, and who ever would have seen them as festival headliners, arena-fillers and chart-toppers around the time of Infinity Land?
Wherever Frightened Rabbit's fourth album ends up charting come Sunday, though, it will still be a triumph. It strikes a perfect balance between the emotional rack-drawing that's made them beloved to many an indie misanthrope and the warmth and hope that makes them better than mere scab-pickers, just as it offsets their talent for unashamed anthems with dark and gnarly little details. It's a beautifully layered construction.
Several of the songs show the inspiration of their one-time duet-partners on a cover of ‘Don't Go Breakin' My Heart', The Hold Steady, broadening out beyond singer and lead songwriter Scott Hutchison's bitterly witty agonising into social snapshots and stories. Tricky ground, but Hutchison is defter here than most. ‘State Hospital', the lead track of last year's EP of the same name, picks out a few stark images to describe a life lived out of reach of aspiration, distributing its emotional weight carefully-careful right up until it suckerpunches you with the chorus (and its great line "Her heart beats like a breezeblock thrown down the stairs"). The taut, dizzying race of ‘Backyard Skulls' pokes the secrets we all hide, while the fighting fit ‘Holy' takes a pop at religion, though it could as easily be read as an up-yours to a self-righteous friend. If we could perhaps do without the "stumbling pinstripe trouser, flecks of sick on an office shoe" on the slow-building opener ‘Acts Of Man', the rest of the song picks its way neatly between the semi-personal ("I have never wanted more to be a man/And build a house around you") and succinct broader strokes ("now a knight in shitty armour/Rips a drunk out of her dress").
And this album is actually all about that balance between the personal and the general; having won sad hearts with 2008's raw, self-exposing The Midnight Organ Fight, written after a breakup, Hutchison drew back a little for the spikier The Winter Of Mixed Drinks. This time round, bored of writing about himself, he'd aimed at writing a more story-based, outward-looking album. A few songs in, he split up with his girlfriend, and events took over his writing. As such, the album wrangles beautifully between universal burdens and Hutchison's attempts to resist and eventual collapse into personal catharsis; most affecting is ‘Nitrous Gas', a slow-paced, peaky ballad where Hutchison skewers the selfish, trap-like nature of depression with a blade of black humour: "Shut down the gospel singers, and turn up the old heartbreakers/I'm dying to tell you, that I'm dying here... suck in the bright red major keys/Turn out the blue minor miseries... I'm dying to bring you down with me". The mournful acoustic backing is kissed by a soothingly chorused backing vocal - no gospel singers, but a bitter olive branch of just learning to get along: "if happiness won't live with me, I think I can live with that".
Reflecting the songs' struggle towards extraversion, this album is the first Frightened Rabbit record in which songwriting has been opened up to the rest of the band. The result is an album that while always proudly residing in recognisable rock song format, twists it in interesting ways. ‘Dead Now' in particular, with its shunting rhythm and gasped backing vocals and ‘Acts Of Man' with its slow, creeping build-up, offer just the right balance to the stompily, folkily chantable chorus of ‘Late March, Death March'.
‘Oli Slick', the closer, offers perhaps the album's definitive statement; Hutchison imagines himself putting out to sea in search of a love song, "something soft and gentle to reflect its muse". Swamped instead by black, tarry negativity, "the dark words pissing from my throat", he's forced to confess he's returned with nothing but "another selfish signpost to my ruin of faults." The song's deft dance of laughter, humour, anger, pain and love across an upbeat melody and a springing, swooping rhythm that echoes the lyrics' seasick worrywarting is an haggardly huggable example of what Frightened Rabbit do best. The song, and the album close with the assurance that "There is light, there's a tunnel to crawl through/There is love, misery loves you...." We can rest assured that whether or not our lop-eared friends ever do get to stare deep into the bigtime limelight that they deserve, they'll always find a misery-ridden bright side of sorts.