“Pedestrian Verse” may be Frightened Rabbit’s best record yet

Frightened Rabbit’s “Pedestrian Verse” earns five out of five stars.


Courtesy | pitchfork.com

Mack Hayden , Writer

Correction: Hutchinson's brother Grant was originally misidentified as Glenn. The Chimes regrets this error.

When Scott Hutchinson opens any Frightened Rabbit album, you can feel him jamming his keys into the ignition, getting it into gear and then hitting the accelerator. “Pedestrian Verse” is no different. Drive is at the center of each song’s thumping rhythms and hiccup-y guitars. Most songs go along like an episode of Top Gear. They’re weepy Scottish drag races, and almost every track reaches the finish line with efficiency and finesse. Even the slower numbers are pit stops dedicated to making the rest of the LP a road trip worth remembering.

Band celebrates the brokenness of humanity

It’s no crime to address Hutchinson as the primary reason for the band’s greatness. Still, “Pedestrian Verse” is all the better for being the first album where he isn’t the only one doing the songwriting. Originally, Frightened Rabbit was a stage name for his solo endeavors and live performances. Eventually, his brother Grant joined the band as well as Billy Kennedy, the guitarist responsible for the fretboard slides and jives aplenty. The band’s grown in size and talent since then.

“Not here, not here / Heroic acts of man,” sings Hutchinson on “Pedestrian Verse’s” opening song, “Acts of Man.” Its a refrain summing up everything the band has stood for. “I am just like all the rest of them / Sorry, selfish, trying to improve,” he warbles later in the song. Its a more slowgoing track compared to what’s about to come later, but it's a succinct and poignant introduction of the album’s bleakly hopeful themes. Where other bands are interested in ignoring or sentimentalizing the more painful parts of humanity’s tenure on earth, Frightened Rabbit wants to get their listeners focused in on them. The blood flowing through this album’s veins is a continuing study of the acts of man, mostly upsetting but somehow worth venerating.

“Backyard Skulls” paints life as a graveyard. Skeletons are underground and decomposing but never really gone. Every action begs to be seen as something indelible upon earth’s ground. Ashes may be cast into the sea, bodies deteriorating and put under soil, but in some way all their lives stood for molds the future. “Backyard skulls, deep beneath the ground / Oh those backyard skulls, not deep enough to never be found.”

Religion is treated with angst in these songs

Biola students should be particularly intrigued by “Holy.” Hutchinson is no Marcus Mumford, at times even openly hostile to religious belief in his lyrics. Still, he refuses to disregard the pervasive influence and power of Christian metaphors over artistic expression. Though he’s angsty and upset about religion’s occasionally corrosive effect on personal and societal growth and interaction, he still works with it as a worthy theme. “You read to me from the riot act from way on high, high / Clutching a crisp New Testament breathing fire, fire / Will you save me your fake benevolence, I don’t have time,” he pleads. “Don’t mind being lonely, so spare me the brimstone / Acting all holy when you know I’m full of holes.” Harsh words but pleas worth hearing. Through the rest of the record, Hutchinson echoes the sentiments of these first three songs. At the center of it all is a sad celebration of human fragility as the race’s most essential and noble feature.

Debut album, “Sing the Greys” showed promise and a heart-on-their-sleeves honesty as folk was continuing its resurgence in 2006. Where Sam Beam’s Iron & Wine or Sufjan Stevens tend toward the soft-spoken, Rabbit has always opted for a shake-you-by-the-shoulders approach. It’s the difference between crying in the bathroom and a night of drunken, heartbroken rage. 2008‘s “The Midnight Organ Flight” turned ignoring them into an almost criminal act. “Pedestrian Verse” is the always-welcome surprise at a 20-year high school reunion. It’s the sound of a band that’s matured and deepened themselves but still hasn’t lost hold of who they were at their most youthful and idealistic. Each record has shown a clear progression from the one that came before it and their latest is their most mature and rewarding.

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