I've had this review practically written for a few weeks now, but I decided to hold off on its conclusion. Normally when I'm doing the 62 Word Reviews here on Peenko, I only get time for a few listens of each track before writing the review. I feel on occasion that, upon having a quick look back at some reviews, I've been far too generous with my praise. Something has maybe happened to catch me in the right mood. I've then soaked it in a golden shower of hyperbole and published the review before realising that while it might be good, it's not exactly going to change the world. So, rather than rushing out after listening to Pedestrian Verse two or three times and declaring it was the best thing Frightened Rabbit have ever written (because this is what I initially thought), I wanted to let it consume me a little, let the words seep in and ingrain themselves on my mind.
Scott Hutchison, it seems, was setting himself a challenge with this one, as 'Pedestrian Verse' is a rather brave title for a fourth album. Write some slightly sub-par songs and a publication such as the NME would surely use it to savage you. (Incidentally, the NME's review of this album was positive. To save you the bother of reading it, here's a short summation: this band aren't Coldplay. 8/10). Hutchison has obviously used this to drive himself to write the best he possibly can. He has always written very personal songs. It's one of the reasons The Midnight Organ Fight is one of my favourite albums. It was so honest and raw: one man's utter heartbreak and the subsequent emotional fallout from a messy split, laid bare and committed to tape. There was no glossing over his own faults, no rom-com ending where everyone kissed and made up. When they arrived at The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, things were different. The personal stuff was there but with Frightened Rabbit looking increasingly likely to be the 'next big thing', Hutchison's writing was slightly more guarded and cryptic, presumably to protect either himself or those he was writing about. That's understandable, and I don't feel this approach detracted from the quality of the songwriting. In fact, songs such as Things and Skip The Youth are among the best material he's ever written. However, its cluttered production pulled a veil across the lyrics, simultaneously pushing the listener away. Part of The Midnight Organ Fight's magic was its intimacy: its naked production meant it often sounded like the band were right beside you. The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, sadly, sounded like they were playing in a barn at the other side of the field, its sentiment diluted and washed out in an ocean of reverb.
The production on Pedestrian Verse bridges the gap perfectly between the two. The songs sound big enough to fill an arena, but taut and reined-in just enough to reclaim much of that intimacy lacking on The Winter Of Mixed Drinks. Producer Leo Abrahams has obviously felt that Hutchison's vocals should once again be the focal point so these are pushed high in the mix and augmented with some subtle yet very effective backing vocals. His vocals themselves have tonnes of character, bright and lively, enunciated purposefully, using (and I apologise if I'm straying too far into studio jargon territory now, but this word is pretty self-explanatory...) only minimal de-essing. Totally different from that dull, deadened sound that stripped much of the character from his voice on the previous album. Musically, everything sounds tight with no superfluous instrumentation. Every wee note and every hit of percussion is in its right place. Grant Hutchison's drums have never sounded better (and they sound particularly good on album closer The Oil Slick). The incorporation of the rest of the band into the songwriting process appears to have refreshed Frightened Rabbit. There's a bit more grit about them (as evidenced on Holy and the slightly mathy December's Traditions), but the pop sensibilities remain – maybe we're seeing the influence of former Make Model member Gordon Skene there? Delve a little further past those pop sensibilities however and you'll find that, lyrically, Pedestrian Verse may just be Frightened Rabbit's darkest outing yet.
A major lyrical theme of Pedestrian Verse appears to be one of trying to come to terms with the seemingly perpetual recurrence of depression. It's all too apparent on single The Woodpile where, beneath the major key bombast, the shout-till-your-chest-bursts chorus and driving bass lie the anguished lines, “bereft of all social charms, struck dumb by the hand of fear, I fall into the corner's arms, same way that I've done for years, I'm trapped in a collapsing building”. Then there's the resigned “don't care if I'm lonely, 'cause it feels like home” in the powerful, pounding Holy. It seems that when Hutchison feels he might just be getting somewhere, he is dragged back into misery by his own body (the 'collapsing building'). The depth of this misery is evident in Dead Now, a bright and jaunty stomp where the line “I'm dead now, you can hear the relief, as life's belligerent symphonies finally cease” yearns for some comfort, away from the “devil...living inside of me”.
It can be pretty heavy stuff at times, despite the fact that the music itself is actually fairly bright and cheery by Frightened Rabbit's standards. This is something Hutchison acknowledges on Nitrous Gas with the lines “suck in the bright red major key, spit out the blue minor misery”. There's something of an explanation for this is on album closer Oil Slick, where Hutchison sings “I went looking for a song for you, something soft and patient to reflect its muse, I took a walk with all my brightest thoughts, but the weather soon turned and they all ran off”. Once again, he is longing for some relief from it all but finds he can't be lifted out of that mental state that easily, and that the 'oil slick' of dark thoughts don't ever seem to leave him for long. However, they end the album on a rather more buoyant note: “I've got hope so I think I'll be fine, in these disastrous times, disastrous times”. To put it flippantly, here's the acceptance that he's a miserable bastard but that he holds out hope that things might one day be better.
Pedestrian Verse is a harrowing listen at times, yet it's utterly fantastic from start to finish. Hutchison's lyrics have never been sharper. For example, the description of violence in Acts Of Man has imagery so vivid you can practically smell the Paco Rabanne 1 Million in amongst the blood. Hutchison is a truly gifted songwriter, dealing with what is common subject matter for songwriters the world over in a way which is never maudlin, and never using throwaway filler lines or cliché. Musically, they've got the balance just right for their first release on a major: the songs are a fairly eclectic mix, just about weird enough to retain credibility with the hipsters but straight enough to pass as something a bit more mainstream. This is their most accomplished album, a piece of work crafted by masterful hands. So is it the best thing Frightened Rabbit have ever written? Aye. I'd say so, anyway.