Frightened Rabbit, out of Scotland, has always balanced the triumphant with the desperate, building large-scale, cathartic climaxes out of ragged guitar riffs, throat-soar shouts and gut-punched, rabble-rousing drums. Their sound has always been simultaneously a fist in the air and an open wound, a celebration of overcoming that is not quite certain, not quite over. Pedestrian Verse is the band’s fourth full-length, the first for Atlantic subsidiary Canvasback, but in no way a betrayal of the band’s rough-edged aesthetic. Pounding, pulsing, head-rattling “Holy” is among the band’s best rockers ever, and “State Hospital” another in a continuing series of poetic but dead-on conjurations of mental illness.
In the interval since Winter of Mixed Drinks, Frightened Rabbit has toured relentlessly – and so has played many of these songs repeatedly, on stage, before laying them down to tape. As a result there is more of a live, kinetic energy to this album, and less of the studio experiments and sound collages that dotted previous albums. The sound, too, is noticeably cleaner, with keyboards, in particular, showing up more sharply than before. Yet though these songs may be fresh out of the shower, they haven’t been blow-dried or overstyled. The shout-along choruses of “Woodpile” rumble with raw masculine intensity, the drums punch through power chords vibrating with dissonance. Everything is urgent and loaded with consequence.
“State Hospital” is the album’s best cut, starting in tremulous, brogue-twisted diffidence and building towards crescendo. Like many of Frightened Rabbit’s songs, starting with “Sing the Greys”, it deals with clinical depression. It’s the song where you realize what a good lyricist Hutchinson is, as he describes the disease in sturdy metaphors — “her blood is thicker than concrete,” “a slipped disc in the spine of community” — to present a picture that is both haunting and grounded in reality. And though the song suggests no happy endings, it rises with inexorable force, voices criss-crossing, guitars chiming, drums pummelling. Towards the ending, Hutchinson sings “All is not lost” so repeatedly that we start to believe it.
And that’s maybe the secret to Frightened Rabbit, that the band manages to make very dark songs soar without ever masking the darkness. Pedestrian Verse sounds like a celebration and reads like a eulogy. It’s intense and contradictory, a bundle of bravado and doubt and vulnerability and longing that stays with you for a long time after the last chorus fades.
Download: “Holy” “State Hospital”