Review: Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse

Image Courtesy of Frightened Rabbit

I hesitated before listening to this album because I loved The Midnight Organ Fight. It was awarded embarrassingly frequent rotation in my car, home and iPod. Gradually, I learned all the lyrics and screamed them at full volume down the highway on my way to work. That album will always take me back to university; the 19-year-old me pacing awkwardly through the library, all frizzy hair and baggy pants.

But a friend finally coaxed me to give Pedestrian Verse a listen. One Friday at 4am, I put the headphones on to hear the first line: “I’m that dickhead in the kitchen giving wine to your best girl’s glass”. Immediately, I was back. After several years of loving this band and loving this album, I’ve realise one thing to be completely true:

Frightened Rabbit are better than Mumford and Sons.

I’m not here to rock the boat.

I’m not here to make disapproving faces or point fingers.

It’s just the truth and I can give you three major reasons as to why.

1. Where Frightened Rabbit demonstrate their versatility as musicians in terms of song structure, mood and genre; Mumford and Sons don a uniform folk routine. As nice as a rambling banjo line can be, this device is too often a prominent feature in every song. In a January interview with Spin, Hutchinson disapproved of Babel’s attempt at “shovelling the same shit” from the previous Mumford and Sons album.

2. No one curses like a Scotsman. It’s a simple fact.
When I hear Marcus admitting he “really fucked it up this time” I can’t help comparing it to Scott’s, “after months of grieving, fuck the grief I’m leaving.” Suddenly, Marcus looks like a big wuss who lacks emotional charge and creativity with his apathetic use of a clichéd phrase. Pedestrian Verse drops enough bastards, dickheads and shits to satisfy a Monday morning assembly of angst-ridden teenagers.

3. Marcus Mumford has got the basics but Scott Hutchinson is a born storyteller. In “Snow Still Melting”, Frightened Rabbit use the metaphor of a freezing cold night to describe a previous relationship: “We are ruled by a governing frost. It melts beneath alcohol briefly and then bites back.” Whereas, the opening lines of “I Will Wait” feature a simile that doesn’t make sense: “I came home like a stone and I fell heavy into your arms.” How do you come home like a stone, Marcus? Does someone throw you through the window or do you simply wait in the garden bed for someone to find you?

Honestly, I’m just frustrated that Pedestrian Verse, with all its darkness, guts and self-deprecation, isn’t getting the attention it rightfully deserves.

But enough with the comparisons; let’s do this.

The opening song, “Acts of Man” introduces the album with a simple piano riff, understated vocals and violin; building steadily with a tom-heavy drum section and robust electric guitar. Vocal harmonies asserting, “Not here, not here,” hint at an impending explosion. Hutchinson’s renowned cynicism makes a grand entrance when he suggests, “let’s promise every girl we marry we’ll always love them when we probably won’t.” This song is anything but predictable. At the 3:30 mark, the band launches into an indie-electronic style jam with heavy reverb on the lead guitar. As such, Frightened Rabbit give their audience a taste of everything that’s on the menu this evening.

Somewhat abruptly, the Scottish five-piece breaks into an upbeat tune called “Backyard Skulls”. Amid pop sensibilities and an unexpectedly 80s synth line, there is detailed imagery about buried secrets. Lyrically, Hutchinson plays with the extended metaphor of having skeletons in one’s closet, showcasing the band’s inescapable folk foundations. In fact, “The Woodpile” is distinctly folk in sound and style. With an addictively explosive chorus, this song is carefully constructed to produce emotional intensity with a catchy melody, flourishing tambourine and subtle orchestral elements that would threaten to distort the track on a set of poor speakers. The guitars swell into an electrifying solo and chorus refrain. Consistently addressing the listener, the undeniably Scottish front man howls: “We’ll speak in our secret tongues,” which soon dissipates in to the schoolboy-esque whistling on “Late March, Death March”, a catchy and anthemic chant about a drunken argument.

There’s a fair portion of dark subject matter on this record too. “State Hospital” displays lyrical density as Hutchinson describes the inner turmoil of a young girl. Images of death, sickness and social isolation are confronting as we hear the album’s title: “A slipped disc in the spine of community / A bloody curse word made pedestrian verse.” This song is intriguing in its simplicity and the raucous chanting in the outro of, “All is not lost,” reassures the song’s protagonist of a light at the end of the tunnel. Hutchinson describes this song as his “first foray into writing about someone else’s life and constructing a character other than a version of myself.”

Similarly, “Nitrous Gas” begins with stripped-back guitar and a display of the band’s newfound experimentation with minor keys. The backing vocals are haunting and a cluster of cymbal crashes tug at the listener’s heartstrings. Hutchinson’s whisky-soaked croaking about artificially induced laughter is witty and self-destructive, sharing similarities (for me at least) with his temperament in “Poke” from their previous album.

My personal favourite is a track entitled “The Oil Slick”, which leaves a lasting impression on the standard edition of the album. A tight, upbeat combination of electric guitar and sliding bass line is met with a resigned attitude towards future romance. Hutchinson continues to find fault in himself, as his sense of humour ranges from the self-critical, “Only an idiot would swim through the shit I write,” and the hilarious, “I’ve got a voice like a gutter in a toxic storm.” This song is undoubtedly catchy. Midway through, “The Oil Slick” falls into a deep repetitive drum beat, generating force with the wailing positivity of “Still got hope so I’ll think we’ll be fine in these disastrous times” and a horn section reminiscent of the beloved Neutral Milk Hotel. Slowly, the drums and electric guitar dissipate into a flock of chattering birds and the rustle of tree branches.

Overall, this album showcases an evolution of Frightened Rabbit’s music structurally, stylistically and lyrically. The tracks range from anthemic synth beats to delicate folk lamentations, all conducted by the biting and reckless persona of their tenacious bearded front man.

The band considers Pedestrian Verse to be their best work to date. So sink your teeth into some rich and seasoned Scottish folk-rock, because Babel’s only going to leave you hungry.

Frightened Rabbit Tour Dates:

27th April to 11th May – Groovin’ the Moo
Thursday 2nd May – The Zoo, Brisbane, QLD
Wednesday 8th May – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 9th May – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW

1 Comment

  1. March 8, 2013 at 14:19

    […] “This album showcases an evolution of Frightened Rabbit’s music structurally, stylistically and lyrically. The tracks range from anthemic synth beats to delicate folk lamentations, all conducted by the biting and reckless persona of their tenacious bearded front man” – Lauren Moore reviews Pedestrian Verse from Frightened Rabbit. Review here […]

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