Frightened Rabbit have tentatively made steps into the public conscience over the last five or six years via a hard work ethic, honest songwriting and the help of a Baxters Soup advert. Despite the lack of new material, their headline set at 2000 Trees in 2011 showcased a newfound confidence in their live set and hinted at great things to come. Around that time, they also progressed from the brilliant independent label FatCat to a major in Atlantic Records. Following on from the well-received ‘State Hospital’ EP, will ‘Pedestrian Verse’ prove Atlantic right in taking a chance on five scruffy men from Selkirk?
While some alluring piano plays underneath, ‘Acts of Man’ opens with the unfamiliar falsetto of Scott Hutchison singing: ‘I am the dickhead in the kitchen’. An unforgettable line, it’s fair to say he’s nailed the best opening lyric of the year. The song then goes on to mix the heart-breaking sincerity of their best album to date ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ with the more accomplished instrumentation of the last long-player ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’. Whereas before Scott was always the driving force behind the band, they’re working more as a collective on this album and this is very clear on ‘Backyard Skulls’, an anthemic shot in the arm that casually gives a nod to Grandaddy. Although Scott’s stunning voice can sometimes be a little hidden amongst the more prominent instruments, it’s clear they’re enjoying themselves and drummer Grant Hutchison gets to really stamp his authority on the fast-paced ‘Holy’, a song in which Scott once again shows he knows just how to write – and deliver – a killer line with ‘I’ll still have the stomach of a sinner, face of an unholy ghost’.
You’ll have heard ‘The Woodpile’, a huge Elbow-tinged track that’s made it onto the Radio 1 playlist and showcases a searing passion with the singalong quality. Scott really abandons all attempts at restraint as he sings: ‘I’m trapped in an abandoned building, come find me now, we’ll hide out’ and the song’s all the better for it. The dual tracks of ‘Housing (In)’ and ‘Housing (Out)’ are separate but addictive little ditties that are quite vocal-led with the latter featuring a drumbeat that’s impossible not to clap and tap along to. Frabbit recall their Scottish contemporaries like Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura on the darkly titled ‘Late March, Death March’. With a singalong atmosphere and a hint of their folky roots (it has the essence of ‘Old Old Fashioned’), it shows classic Scottish pop bounceability as Scott sings about drunken priests and staggering sermons. Although the closing lines of ‘March, death, march’ are a little unsettling, they’re sung with such authority it’s hard not to be impressed. ‘December’s Traditions’ continues this heavy atmosphere with the band asking ‘It’s not the answer, I’m just begging to be told’ and ‘What do you need from me?’
As the album enters its final third, ‘State Hospital’ comes and the mix of vibrant guitar, pummelling drums and startling narrative combine as the album title of ‘pedestrian verse’ is expertly dropped in. The line of ‘Saturday’s uniform for the fuck-me parade’ adds a real punch to the whole feel of the song and there’s also a Phil Spector feel to the production that proves the song was made for the big stage. The closing ‘Oil Slick’ throws together some distinctive guitar lines with an extremely direct delivery from Scott, possibly the most straight-up he has been since ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’. The track recalls The National at their most potent and also contains the self-depreciating lyrics: ‘Only an idiot would swim through the sh*t I write, I cannot talk about life and love, I’ve got a voice like a gutter in a toxic storm’ while the refrain of ‘There is light but there’s a tunnel to crawl through, There is love but its misery loves you, We’ve still got hope so I think we’ll be fine, In these disastrous times, disastrous times’ has a real emphasis on things being disastrous. Luckily for us, ‘Pedestrian Verse’ is about as far from disastrous you can get.
‘Pedestrian Verse’ is out on 4 February via Atlantic Records.