New Music Tuesdays: Frightened Rabbit – “Pedestrian Verse”
Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, Frightened Rabbit have raised the bar for Scottish music, at least in America. Proving to be more popular in the US than in their native country, the band has become known for their indie-rock sound and, more notably, for their depressing and starkly honest lyrics. On their latest release Pedestrian Verse (out February 5 via Atlantic Records) Frightened Rabbit sticks to this standard, producing song after song of interesting and compelling music.
When writing the lyrics for the new Frightened Rabbit album frontman Scott Hutchison set himself a challenge: “Don’t go writing about ‘the sky falling’, or how she is your ‘world’.” However, beyond avoiding the standard clichés, he was also hoping to write about people beyond himself, about the lives he witnesses as if he was “looking through windows” into the lives of others. For anyone familiar with Frightened Rabbit’s past albums (especially their fantastic sophomore release The Midnight Organ Fight), this might sound shocking. The majority of their past lyrics have been, to put it lightly, depressing and focused on the troubles of Hutchison’s own life. On Pedestrian Verse, he does stray from this proven treasure-trove of sad stories but can’t resist talking about his own life as well. However, these forays into fictional lives are some of the sharpest and gut-wrenching stories Hutchison has told. Take the single “State Hospital”. It gives the overview of a girl’s life; it wasn’t the worst life, but it wasn’t the best. The imagery he speaks with paints an extremely vivid picture of the feelings of the girl. Paired with the video, it is an extremely emotional and depressing song. Other songs give similar stories such as opener “Acts of Man”, which Hutchison has said to be the compliment to State Hospital, or “Late March, Dead March” which talks about the drunken arguments of two people (perhaps a couple). Hutchison proves his chops as a vivid story-teller with these songs, making for a compelling and intriguing listen.
The story-telling songs are also complimented by a few more ‘thematic’ songs that deal less with a story and more with an overarching theme, such as death or love. Recent single “The Woodpile” juxtaposes its catchy rock instrumentals with the loneliness and depression its lyrics discuss. “Dead Now” discusses death and the feeling of wishing to be dead. Hutchison also allows himself to fall into his old habit of writing about himself on songs like “Holy” where he talks about a kind of destructive rebirth, a holiness in being completely broken, that he went through a few years ago. Short interludes “Housing (In)” and “Housing (Out)” talk about the pains of being in a constantly touring rock band; getting home and “laying [your] head down” and then being “stolen by these songs” before having any time to rest. Though he did not stick to his goal of avoiding himself, the balance of stories, themes, and introspection in the lyrics works extremely well on this album. At their best, Hutchison’s lyrics are extremely poignant and can feel universal, at their worst they boarder on clichéd which happens very rarely on this album.
Musically, Pedestrian Verse, doesn’t stray very far from the first three Frightened Rabbit album. Driven primarily by heavy drums and loud guitars, the album rocks. Songs like “The Woodpile” are classic indie-rock songs that are big and in your face. With a bit more piano thrown in this album than I remember the past albums, its clear the band is experimenting slightly, but aren’t that comfortable stepping very far beyond what they know. Normally, I would be a bit annoyed at that; I generally like to see progression in a band’s style (see my review of Matt & Kim’s Lightening), but for Frightened Rabbit, I’m glad they stayed with what their comfortable. Besides just providing awesome songs to listen to, one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed listening to the band is that they do a great job of juxtaposing fantastic indie-rock instrumentals with utterly depressing lyrical themes. “The Woodpile” is a perfect example of this. On a surface listen, the song just seems like a great indie single, something you could throw on a playlist and enjoy for a while. But dig into the lyrics and you hit a type of loneliness that is truly universal: “Bereft of all social charms, I’m struck down by the hand of fear.” This social anxiety is hiding behind the sing-a-long chorus and booming guitars and drums. When the band does slow down, moving into a more minor key, such as on “December’s Traditions,” the drive is still present. A rolling snare drives “December’s Traditions” into the chorus which is quieter than other songs, but still loud.
Despite a few missteps with lyrical metaphors that boarded on cliché and a somewhat repetitive musical style, I found myself enjoying every song on this album. Each one brought something interesting to the album, whether it was a great guitar riff or an emotional story. The entire band is on point here with Hutchison delivering song after song of thought-provoking and depressing lyrics. For fans of Frightened Rabbit, this album will be a conformation of what they already know: the band makes rocking and extremely lyrically depressing albums. For new listeners, it is a great place to start.
Rating: 4 / 5
Key Tracks: The Woodpile, State Hospital, The Oil Slick