Review Summary: Combines the bitterly personal and the fist-pumpingly anthemic in one beautifully maudlin Glaswegian package.
It is hard to believe that more than two years have passed since Frightened Rabbit’s last album, ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’, itself a slightly disappointing effort in light of the brilliance of much that came before it. Perhaps some of that disappointment can be put down to lead singer Scott Hutchison’s newfound happiness, leading to a departure from the bitterly beautiful lyricism of ‘Midnight Organ Fight’, the band’s sophomore work. Now Hutchison and his band mates have finally returned, bringing with them a welcome dose of the old misery as well as a set of songs that will surely number amongst the year’s best by its end.
Frightened Rabbit’s main strength has always been the ability to meld deeply personal and emotionally honest lyrics with rollicking melodies. ‘Late March, Death March’ fairly clatters along with the vigour of a Highland steam train, propelled not by coal but an insistent rhythm section, and yet Hutchison’s plaintive voice keeps its anthemic desires just about in check. Unlike their contemporaries, Biffy Clyro, Glasvegas et al., the band have retained not only their huge choruses but also their slightly tattered, ramshackle soul. It’s why we fell in love with them in the first place, and nowhere is it better illustrated than on ‘The Woodpile’. This might be the vastest song on the album, but lines like ‘Come find me now, we’ll hide out, we’ll speak in our secret tongues’ could only have been written by this band and this vocalist.
The album dips slightly upon a move from personal to social commentary. Hutchison’s lyrics have always been heavy-handed- indeed, that is part of their charm- but ‘State Hospital’ is weighed down by clunky rhyming couplets and feels overwrought as a result. A shot of subtlety might have served better here. Nevertheless, the band redeems themselves on ‘Nitrous Gas’, a stunning, mournful ballad which displays their talent for metaphor. If anyone writes a more stunningly simple yet beautiful line this year as ‘If happiness won’t live with me, think I can live with that’ then colour me extremely surprised. (That’s as surprised as I get).
Despite some slow moments in the middle of the album, there is the inescapable sense that this band have rediscovered what made them so special in the first place. ‘Backyard Skulls’ in particular might be the best thing they’ve ever written. Again at its heart is a superb metaphor: these skulls are Hutchison’s former lovers, haunting him from his back garden. It’s a mournful, funny, utterly anthemic song: we can but hope for many more of its ilk in the future.