Frightened Rabbit’s 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight was the greatest album to come out that year, and one of the best indie rock albums of all time. That’s not my opinion, it’s fact. It was a collection of songs about people and love that served as a raw, impassioned, painful rebel yell against prepackaged music, canned feelings, and corporate sentiment. But what have they done for us lately?
The Winter Of Mixed Drinks is the Scottish fivesome’s third record. And it’s nothing like the first two. Lots of bands when they get popular take a softer, less desperate turn, and Frightened Rabbit are no different. This will inevitably be compared to the Bell X-1/Snow Patrol/Coldplay contingent (who are all just softer versions of U2 anyway), but not by me. Scott Hutchison’s voice, in a single verse, is capable of dynamic range and ambiguity—and nobody can accuse those soft-rockers of anything close to that. Just listen to “Wrestle,” with its layers of power and pathos, and then play “Yellow.” You can sleep through “Yellow.” But you better not sleep on Frightened Rabbit.
Is the album perfect? No. Is it better than their last one? Again, no. This one takes repeated listens to appreciate—the songs don’t instantly feel like old sweaters—but it is well worth the investment. The band has the ability to make hooks that sneak up on you. Instead of hammering out choruses designed to get airplay, they slog through the hard parts, verse by verse, and drag the listener along behind. Sometimes you’re dragged on your face. It’s a softer album, but it many ways it is less accessible and harder to get into.
Just like on “Organ Fight,” every song is a lighters-up anthem. (And this can get exhausting, truly.) But every lyric is well-constructed; every verse well placed; and the band is as tight as ever, moving as a single organism, crawling through your ears and under your skin, just like the yearning at a bar at closing time. None of which is to suggest morbidity or hopelessness. On the contrary, FR are still full of fire, still alive, and still searching for abundance and joy. They’re just not afraid of honesty—true honesty. In fact, the only thing they seem to fear is affectation. And that’s why I’ll never compare them to U2 or Coldplay. This is a band that overcomes all comparison. I can’t wait to hear what they do next.