Artist: Frightened Rabbit

Album: Pedestrian Verse

Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison has the greatest thick Scottish accent I’ve ever heard in a singer — yes, even over Craig and Charlie Reid from the Proclaimers. That, and the power (but gentle spirit) in Hutchison’s lungs, really ought to be enough to sell Frightened_Rabbit_Pedestrian_Verseyou on Pedestrian Verse, their fourth and perhaps best album. I’m assuming of course that, like me, you wore your traditional clan kilt at your wedding, or that even if you didn’t — perhaps because you’re female — you realize now what a fine idea that is.

Maybe you need more info. Maybe you care what the band behind Hutchison sounds like. Okay. They’re a grand, impassioned guitar-rock band, closest to the ’80s versions of U2 and Big Country. Plausibly close to Pearl Jam, too, if you scrape off that band’s grim excess of noise and trade in Eddie Vedder; close to Arcade Fire’s Funeral if you toss aside that band’s bowed strings and occasional female singer. Maybe Pedestrian Verse could even have been an alternate path from Radiohead’s the Bends if Thom Yorke had reacted to fame by making his neuroses more apologetic and inclusive, rather than frightened, repelled, and willfully odd.

Not to imply Radiohead’s actual experimental path was in any way wrong. I’m just saying that Yorke, unlike Hutchison, has never put in the first person imagery like “I am that dickhead in the kitchen/ Giving wine to your best girl’s glass/ I am the amateur pornographer/ Unpleasant publisher by hand/… Let’s all crowd round the cowering body/ Throw stocky fingers, sticks and stones./ Let’s promise every girl we marry we’ll always love them, though we probably won’t./ Not here, not here, heroic acts of man”. Yorke would leave it in the 2nd person, an accusation, and wouldn’t, as Frightened Rabbit does, imagine finishing the song with anyone trying to improve. So that comparison didn’t work, minor-key acts of musical tension and build-up (and, on Acts of Man, fragile falsetto vocal prettiness) aside.

Big Country, though, could certainly have written a love song with the electric urgency and nautical sway of Woodpile: “Would you come to brighten my corner? A lit torch to the woodpile/ Come find me now, where I hide, and/ We’ll speak in our secret tongues”. It took Scott Hutchison to frame his sales pitch in a context of “Bereft of all social charms, struck dumb by the hand of fear”, that’s all.

If anything Frightened Rabbit are, in spirit, that thing which gets called “emo”, though the guilt sounds to me as much like Catholic school. When we sing to their anthems, we take it for granted that we still haven’t found what we’re looking for because we’re blind and stupid, or, more likely, what we’re looking for had the good sense to run away while itFrightened_Rabbit could. It doesn’t mean they aren’t as outward looking as their guitars’ echo and tremolo pedals. State Hospital sings in earnest hope for a romantic couple where “She’s accustomed to hearing she could never run far, a slipped disc in the spine of community” and he’s “a plumber, ruddy and balding, who just needs a spine to dig into, a chest for the head and a hand for the holding”. We’re 20+ years into the era of Kurt Cobain: we know how to use soft/loud/soft, and we know we’re inadequate, but at least we can suck together.

Frightened Rabbit‘s sound used to be janglier, thinner, wirier, more jittery. My favorite of their songs, 2008’s the Modern Leper, placed the urgent romantic perplexity of “Is that you, in spite of me, coming back for even more of exactly the same?” inside a hilariously thorough metaphor of leprosy, and its central riff was something an adventurous bluegrass band might have stumbled across. Here Acts of Man has piano, State Hospital gentle synthesizer, and the guitars are beefier and more resonant. They have grown into broken adulthood, frayed community. An extremely Scottish frayedness, so, y’know. It works for me.

– Brian Block

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Pedestrian Verse (Audio CD)

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