I’m the dickhead in the kitchen
Pouring wine in your best girl’s glass
With that, the first line of the lovely opening track (“Acts Of Man”) to Frightened Rabbit’s new album Pedestrian Verse, lead singer Scott Hutchison sets the stage for another epic album of wallowing in sorrow, guilt, and misery. For three verses he offers a litany of the romantic failings of men, sprinkling the mini-chorus of “Not here, not here, heroic acts of man,” between them. He seems to be setting the stage for some dramatic revelation in verse four.
But that is when the surprise comes.
Rather than coming clean with some loathsome failing of his own, he admits that while he is flawed and sees true love as (likely) unattainable, he’s damn sure going to try.
I’m here, I’m here, not heroic but I try.
It’s a wonderful opener. A slow builder that begins with an old-timey piano and falsetto vocal, with the rest of the band slowly coming in to create a lush, complex piece. It, and other moments on the album, recalls a rather surprising comparison: U2’s Achtung Baby. Pedestrian Verse isn’t the wild change in tone and style that U2’s 1990 classic was. But it is an album that is bigger and conquers new sonic territory while retaining the band’s emotional intimacy.
From “Acts of Man,” the band races through three songs that are as good as any trio of tunes any group will release this year. “Backyard Skulls,” “Holy,” and “The Woodpile” all gallop along at a pace FR haven’t sustained previously in their career.
There are some classic FR downer songs here, too. Hutchison can’t tolerate happiness and whether he’s singing about his own misery (“Nitrous Gas”) or the pain of others (“State Hospital”) that old, familiar Scottish sense of gloom remains.
But this is a surprisingly light album for such a heavy band. There is a persistent touch of humor to the songs. There is an airiness to the music. There are those words of hope at the end of “Acts of Man.” There’s the glorious coda of “State Hospital,” when he exclaims, “All is not lost!” And the album closes with “The Oil Slick,” on which Hutchison mocks his failed attempts to write a happy love song for the object of his affection. As the band builds and soars, his final verse proclaims:
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.
A far cry from contemplating jumping off a bridge, as he did on The Midnight Organ Fight’s “Floating In The Forth” or insisting he’s “Not Miserable Now” on The Winter Of Mixed Drinks.
On Pedestrian Verse, Frightened Rabbit’s fourth album and major-label doubt, the band confirms the hype and establishes itself as one of the most complete, thoughtful, and downright excellent bands in modern/alternative rock. Scott Hutchison’s lyrics are as sharp as ever. Musically, it is the band’s finest album. And in tone, it fits comfortably between the raw emotion of 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight and the studio sheen of 2010’s The Winter Of Mixed Drinks. Simply put, it’s a remarkable album that will be tough to top as best of 2013.