Album Review: Frightened Rabbit offers upbeat sound with gloomy lyrics on Pedestrian Verse


Are you a miserable person? Do you enjoy being miserable? Do you like music aimed at horrible, miserable people like yourself? Well then hey, we should probably hang out. But barring that, you should give Pedestrian Verse, the newest album from Scottish miserabilists Frightened Rabbit, a listen.

Now, that’s a tall order to live up to, but make no mistake: Frightened Rabbit writes anthems for the gloom-obsessed. It pays up on both ends of that equation too.

If on earlier efforts, like 2008’s breakthrough The Midnight Organ Fight, the band sounded insular and folky, it explodes with feeling on Pedestrian Verse. Chief songwriter, singer and guitarist Scott Hutchinson knows how to create a monster chorus to fit his Scotsman’s brogue, and the album is full of them.

“Backyard Skulls,” “State Hospital” and leadoff single “The Woodpile” push insistent melodies in your face, daring you to sing along. There is precious little time for understatement, and Frightened Rabbit ignores even that.

This extends halfway to Hutchinson’s lyrics.

“I don’t mind being lonely, so leave me alone,” he shouts on “Holy,” easily the most forward he gets on the album. Yet, in other places, like the seemingly forthright “Dead Now,” he clearly seems to be spinning something far more obtuse.

Though he has never been a master lyricist - occasionally trading in clunky metaphors and bleeding confessions - Hutchinson manages to fashion even the most acidic of insults (“you’re the shit and I’m knee-deep in it”) into something so catchy you can’t avoid it, if you even want to. So, even the few bombs he drops on the divinity-questioning “Late March, Death March” go down easy.

But here’s the kicker: I may have been overstating the level of instability required to like this, because it’s so damn fun. These are first and foremost pop songs, spirited and enjoyable.

As the band’s first release on a major label, it may be occasionally too slick and packed with details, but don’t worry, some nuance lives here; it’s not dubstep, after all. Hutchinson, with his thick accent, finds ways to stand out in a crowded indie rock landscape.

Then again, this isn’t exactly Beyoncé, or even Arcade Fire. It’s not empowering, and the band, despite its clear commercial pretensions, will probably never become a household name.

It’s still a bit too obtrusive and individual to soundtrack commercials, and more of a downer than most people will want. So, aforementioned miserable people of the world: retreat to your bedrooms, put on some headphones and know that some dude in Scotland knows how to put pain into a damn catchy song.