Two From Frightened Rabbit (Music Review)

Sing the Greys cover

Frightened Rabbit – Sing the Greys

I picked up Frightened Rabbit’s Sing the Greys recently, and I was immediately disappointed. Not that it doesn’t still have the charisma and emotion I expect from the band, but it’s a bit simple compared to their other albums, and the slightly rougher production is a problem for songs that should sound effortlessly soulful. Also, it doesn’t even cross the thirty-minute mark once you take out a few forgettable instrumentals and the live bonus track. I soon realized my mistake, though: I’d thought I was buying Frightened Rabbit’s new album, but I accidentally chose their indie debut instead. In context, Sing the Greys did demonstrate the band’s early potential. Today, though, they’ve lived up to that potential so well that this sounds fairly pointless. It’s not bad, but the only track that really stands the test of time is “The Greys”, a song about how “the blues” isn’t an accurate description of depression.

Pedestrian Verse cover

Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

Fortunately, I corrected my mistake and bought Pedestrian Verse, Frightened Rabbit’s actual new album. It lived up to my expectations, and even assuaged my concerns that the band’s emotional style would start to lose its charm. They evolve here, with a fuller, even orchestral, sound. They’re on the path to becoming the Scottish Arcade Fire, but it’s hard to say how that’s a bad thing.

Most of the other elements are the same: Scott Hutchinson’s voice is rich and confessional, with a confidence and honesty that lets him get away with lines few people could (“a knight in shitty armor” or “the slipped disc in the spine of community”). The songs are beautiful but full of pain, portraying consistently bleak lives, and casual obscenity is common. (In Hutchinson’s world, “fucking” is the most soulless and emotionally numb thing one can do.)

After a few albums, Frightened Rabbit’s basic style is no longer as surprising as it used to be. But the decision to double down on their sound is an effective one, especially since the songs are as varied and well-conceived as ever. They are creative and evocative in their depictions of shameful regrets (“Backyard Skulls”), distant families (“December’s Traditions”), and even doubts about the band’s quality (“The Oil Slick”). “Holy” is notable not because the narrator rejects religion, but because of the way that the believers around him make him dwell on his own empty life.

Yes, the lyrics are as unrelentingly bleak as those descriptions make them seem. But the sound is smooth and uplifting, while Hutchinson’s Scottish accent provides nonstop vocal hooks. This is as easy to play on repeat as a simple pop album, but it’s also thoughtful and full of meaning. That’s a wonderful combination.

Sing the Greys: C

Pedestrian Verse: B+

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