Review Summary: Leave the rest at arm's length; I'm not ready to see you this happy / And leave the rest at arm's length; I'm still in love with you, can't admit it yet.
As you're reading these words, unless you are entirely new to the concept of music criticism, you probably have some sort of pre-conception of how the next few minutes are going to turn out. Music creates an expectation in much the same way, especially when they're a band you haven't heard of before, as will be the case for many with Scottish indie-rock outfit Frightened Rabbit.
In music, these pre-conceptions are formed off the back of art, titles, press releases, lead singles, appearances and concepts. It's fair to say that in this regard, the person that decides how Frightened Rabbit present themselves has done an immaculate job; the sense of gritty realism offered by The Midnight Organ Fight's sleeve alone is an accurate reflection of the music contained inside. Unfortunately, that's not enough to capture what this record is about, but there are very few first impressions that could do it sufficient justice. As far as coherent opinions go, TMOF is a difficult creature, a dizzying experience which takes a lot out of you. It has the words of Scott Hutchison, guitars, folk influence, an indie skeleton and some of the best pop songwriting you're likely to come across this year.
If you were to hear The Modern Leper, the opening track to Frightened Rabbit's second LP, you might expect a chorus-heavy pop-folk record with infectious beats and arguably the cleverest lyrics ever to come out of Britain; you'd be partly correct. If you heard the slower, wistful guitar work of My Backwards Walk, forming a downtempo and mellow wall of sound, you might think you'd be in for a slow-burning, romantic set of songs with raw, honest emotion all over the place; you'd be partly correct. And if you heard any of the three magnificent interludes which tie The Midnight Organ Fight together as an enchanting, flowing whole, you might predict a faintly transcendent aura to surround everything Frightened Rabbit produce, and you would again be very definitely partly right.
The trouble is that The Midnight Organ Fight is the sum of its parts and so much more. It documents a painful break-up over the course of its runtime handled with such realism and introspection it actually makes you think while you listen; Hutchison's desperate delivery makes even the crudest of lines sound endearing, so that when he croons "You're the shit and I'm knee deep in it" at the end of My Backwards Walk, it's inescapably moving. His lyrics knowingly contradict each other, finding meaningless sex fulfilling on The Twist and then condemning it on Keep Yourself Warm, and it's this honesty that renders every song here so convincing; in Frightened Rabbit's world, people are flawed and confused, and still absolutely beautiful.
The music is just as down-to-earth, sittingly proudly between folk and indie in a groove that the band have carved for themselves out of absolutely nowhere (their previous effort, Sing The Greys, was a hit-and-miss affair). Every organ chord and guitar riff is endlessly uplifting and the rhythm section enables every peak and lull (in terms of pace and volume, never quality) to achieve its desired effect, like the chorus of Fast Blood which has Hutchison's shouted Scottish vocals over a veritable barrage of guitars and drums, and the subtly moving Poke which sits atop a picked acoustic and builds to a cliff's-edge anti-anti-climax. Despite the obvious pop sensibilities, there's no musical formula here; the choruses are often the centrepieces to the tracks but there's a wonderful sense of completeness that just will not go away.
On The Midnight Organ Fight, Frightened Rabbit succeed in mixing indie rock and traces of folk into 48 minutes of driven and emotional melodies that lift you up, beat you down and eventually bring closure. It's thoughtful but not self-involved, accessible but by no means generic, and brilliantly energetic but not without its more tender moments. This is one of 2008's best albums, and in a just world would see Frightened Rabbit catapulted to the mainstream fame they clearly deserve.
Got this a couple weeks ago after reading your review, which is awesome by the way. Really great album, but some of the tracks are head over heels better than others, and a couple of them, for me at least, are the one's you applied negatives too.
I also sometimes get the feeling the singer sometimes overdoes his Scottish accent and it sounds sort of gimmicky. Maybe he does just have a really strong accent, it just doesn't sit well with me in certain parts.
The Modern Leper simply rules though, cannot stop listening to that song.
If you want to hear an overdone Scottish accent, give Glasvegas a listen! but yeah, I agree that he does at times over do the accent to milk it for all its worth in the sort of fashion that made everyone start going 'that arctic monkeys guys accent is awesome' but its entirely bearable, unlike Glasvegas. The Arctic Monkeys, of course, actually do sing like that normally, but its that sort of charm in the accent that a lot of UK artists try to mimic nowadays but end up sounding gimmicky.
This was completely overlooked on pretty much every 2008 top 50 list This Message Edited On 01.05.09
I genuinely was nit-picking about the 'negatives' with the only bits of the album that even slightly seemed not to fit to me. I don't think there's a single bad track here. Good Arms v Bad Arms is probably my least favourite track and I still adore it.
when i first got it that's what i did, too, but everything else caught it up over the next few months and yeah, this is genuinely so complete & awesome, it just sort of crept up slowly and one day i turned round and was like, shit, this is SO fucking good.
also the negatives in this review are such bullshit i'm going to edit this when i get the chance, keep it a 4.5 objectively but switch it round a bitThis Message Edited On 05.12.09
Yea this album does own, but what is remarkable is I'm not even in this type of stuff. The vocals more so than anything else as I'm usually irritated with the vocals from most bands (that have the similar approach), but it works really good on here.
Ugh, I'm not talking about the overall sound, I'm stating that the vocals that are bit (dare I say whiney), lol. I wouldn't know where to start, but I could offer some suggestions.
Idlewild (obvious choice, vocals are extremely similar and the topics of choice aren't something I'd usually like, but hey they're great)
Islands (Never heard of 'em, but I hear they're similar)
The National (Have yet to listen to these guys as well, heard great things.)