Review Summary: If you don't stare at the dark, if you never feel bleak, life starts to lose its taste
You are in the middle of the ocean.
It’s vast. It’s seemingly limitless in its reach and depth. Head above water, you swim about in treacherously dark waves. Something isn’t right with you, and you feel very insecure about your predicament. And for good reason because "the shape stirs beneath [you]", and you are soon pulled under the water. But you want to be taken under, oddly enough -- well, at least initially. Bite marks appear on your chest and neck, yet you hold on, begging through garbled bubbles, “Please stay close to me.” You're human, after all -- you need your "human heat", so you accept the risk and go under. This probably wouldn’t be the first time for you, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. However, each time you earn a new scar.
Not so unlike Brand New's "Sic Transit Gloria" in its unique depiction of sex, though be that a shark attack in this song’s case, "The Wrestle" tells us a great deal about singer/songwriter Scott Hutchison. Firstly, intimate physical connection with another soul was something he both craved and feared. And fearing for good reason, it seemed -- the guy took a break up hard, see 2008's seminal The Midnight Organ Fight
as an obvious example. Secondly, he had an extreme fascination with water and the dangers thereof, often using the image of an ocean and swimming to fill out his metaphors throughout the rest of 2010's The Winter of Mixed Drinks
If the lyrical crux of The Midnight Organ Fight
was the break up, and the emotional pain that poured forth, then The Winter of Mixed Drinks
' lyrical crux is the attempted act of moving on, but still inevitably carrying the damage with you as you go. In rallying anthem “Nothing Like You”, Scott has done just that, move on, it would seem: “I am bruised, but she is dressing my wounds. Night nursing a broken man.” The general upbeat sound to this song and later party-rock catchiness of penultimate cut “Living In Colour” might have some to mistake Scott as being happy on The Winter of Mixed Drinks
, but that’s not exactly the case; he’s not happy, but instead just hopeful. On “Not Miserable”, he admits that “most of the misery’s gone,” but then, still very much in touch with his recent past and his own humanity, finishes the line with, “gone, gone to the bone,” which changes the initial meaning of the lyric to something much darker.
Things were improving for Hutchison in 2010, that much can be inferred. As most would agree, time has a way of diluting many emotional wounds, sometimes entirely, sometimes not, but in the singer’s case, the dilution was enough for him to keep pushing forward and writing songs in a warmer if not perfect mood. Scott's favorite Frightened Rabbit song, “Things”, sees him shedding his “old skin” and laying it on the floor and running for “dear life through the door,” and while you could read the song as a literal decry of materialism, it also doubles in meaning as Scott letting go of past feelings and his darker emotions. While heart breaking now, he even paints death in a favorable light with the very same shedding of the old: “The useless objects . . . a dim and silent shedful of your life's supplies, when all you need's a coffin and your Sunday best to smarten up the end.”
As mentioned, the theme of the ocean paints this whole album, and sonically that aquatic theme is prevalent too, though as if by accident. Guitars are layered thick to the point of being shoegaze-y, and Scott’s vocals, too, are layered over and over each other, particularly in the superb climaxes of “The Loneliness and the Scream”, “Skip the Youth”, and the aforementioned “Not Miserable”. Scott’s voice loses some of the intimacy and fragility with the denser production in comparison to that of The Midnight Organ Fight
, but in its place is new-found confidence and strength. The climaxes of said songs become epic in their releases and inspire fist pumping from the audience in a way that proceeding songs and albums by Frightened Rabbit never could again.
While some would say that this “ocean of noise” is overkill, and that Hutchison’s voice is drowned out as a byproduct, I’d say the opposite is the rule: more is actually more
here. When in the studio after the touring cycle for The Midnight Organ Fight
in the latter parts of 2009, Frightened Rabbit went full throttle into making this album without any real barriers or inhibitions. Scott himself would later recount to online-publication Noisey on May 3rd, 2018, a mere week before his death, “I erroneously went in the direction of adding layer upon layer of sound in order to make something that I thought would be grand and big. Weirdly, it actually kind of homogenized it.” I find his comment puzzling, however, because I couldn’t disagree more. No, it’s not the intimate folk-rock heart-breaker like The Midnight Organ Fight
, nor is it the more universal and wider-reaching Pedestrian Verse
, but The Winter of Mixed Drinks
uses all its dense layers to be just what Scott originally intended -- grand and big, both in its catharsis of song builds, and in its relaying the grey-shaded tale of a man lost at sea.
The penultimate cut on The Midnight Organ Fight
, "Floating On The Forth", is truly haunting in retrospect since the lyrics could be considered an exact prequel to last year's tragic event, just penned roughly a decade earlier: "Fully clothed, I'll float away, down the forth, into the sea." The Winter of Mixed Drinks
, taken as a whole, is itself a soul-stirring beast now as well, and I'd argue that it's not only the spiritual sequel to "Floating On The Forth" but also offers for you a more direct view into the window of Hutchison's emotional well-being, even more so than The Midnight Organ Fight
did before it in many places. Closing track “Yes I Would” cuts just as much as the prior track: “I wonder if they'd notice that I'm not around. The loss of a lonely man never makes much of a sound.” It's a heart-breaking statement, and once again I strongly disagree with the singer, much more so than I do with his lackluster opinion of this album.
We notice, Scott, and your sound will never be forgotten.