Music

You Can't Be a Breakup Band Forever

Frightened Rabbit Gets It Together

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THE MIDNIGHT ORGAN FIGHT is the best breakup album of all time.

This assessment is perhaps colored by the fact that I was going through a bad breakup when Frightened Rabbit's 2008 album hit. I am not going to tell you how many times iTunes says I have listened to the song "Poke," but it is more than 100 and less than a million. The Midnight Organ Fight is a profoundly personal, particular album, yet frontman Scott Hutchison's offbeat metaphors and heartsick Scottish brogue tap into a vein of Universal Sad Bastard that's recognizable to anyone who's had their ass kicked by a breakup.

But you can't be a breakup band forever, and Frightened Rabbit's 2010 follow-up didn't make quite the same impression. Aside from a few indelibly poppy standouts (like the great "Nothing Like You," a desperation-tinged ode to sleeping around to spite your ex), The Winter of Mixed Drinks is a strained, too-cheerful album that never really finds its footing. To borrow a breakup analogy, it's a rebound album, from a band that's not quite ready to move on.

Their new full-length Pedestrian Verse, however, reflects a band that has genuinely evolved. It's the most collaborative effort so far from a group that has until now been largely shaped by Hutchison's voice; the lyrics are more expansive, the song structures more varied, the subject matter more outward facing. The record's fuller, more mature sound stems from a writing process that involved the entire band—that, and Hutchison just plain got bored with writing about his own feelings all the time.

"Lyrically, I think I'd hit a bit of a brick wall," Hutchison explains, "and musically I was starting to repeat myself. Although there are personal aspects to the record, I was trying to widen the lens out into a greater portion of society. When you play an hour and a half show and you have 20 songs that're all about you, it's like, oh my god I sound like a whiny teenager. It's just getting boring, and it's getting boring for the audience as well. So I wanted to try to break that habit."

Accordingly, bandmates Gordon Skene, Andy Monaghan, Billy Kennedy, and Grant Hutchison (Scott's younger brother) played a more active role in writing than they did in the past. "I was totally okay with having my toes stepped on," Hutchison says of loosening the reins on the project he originated. "Self-criticism is a way forward. I've always been okay with that."

On past albums, Hutchison's feelings provided most of the lyrical fodder, but Pedestrian Verse announces its broader ambitions from the opening track. From a gentle falsetto opening, "Acts of Man" builds into a remarkably excoriating send-up of man's general shabbiness. The song sees Hutchison taking the measure of himself against the notion of masculinity, in a world where heroism is nowhere to be found.

"Late March, Death March" is an oddly cheery dismissal of religion—complete with background whistles—that might be the most upbeat song ever written about how god doesn't exist. And in "The Oil Slick," the album's pensive, gently bouncing closer, Hutchison turns his attention not to his own emotions, but to the process by which he transmutes those emotions into song. "Took to the ocean in a boat this time," he sings. "Only an idiot would swim through the shit I write." But Hutchison's no idiot—he's a bandleader with his hand firmly at the helm.

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