Let me start by saying that in my humble opinion, Frightened Rabbit are one of indie-rock’s best-kept secrets, in that those of us who are fans know they should be reaching a much wider audience. It’s also my humble opinion that their fourth album Pedestrian Verse is set to change all that.
At the very least, these Scottish rockers have carved out a solid niche for themselves, with a fan base that is fiercely loyal if not quite big enough. Between Scott Hutchinson’s uncloaked Scottish brogue, the band’s Celtic-tinged rhythmic, guitar-driven sound, and their signature melancholy lyricism, there are no other bands that sound quite like them. Now, some bands in their position would try some sort of radical shift in their sound and approach in an attempt to break through the invisible barrier—but in typical indie fashion (and thankfully), Frightened Rabbit have never seemed as interested in grabbing market share as they have in making music that is true to who they are. So what they’ve done on Pedestrian Verse is exactly what they do best—only better still. Higher production value, sonic diversity in the track list (read: the songs do not sound all the same), and an overall maturing in sound and lyric all come together to make this record a huge step forward for a band that was already very good.
While Frightened Rabbit is often accused of being depressing or dreary, I actually feel the combination of music and lyricism on Pedestrian Verse comes across as raw, real and honest, rather than dark for its own sake. Some music exudes sadness that simply descends into the abyss, and some music exudes sadness that is cathartic, even therapeutic, leading to a light at the end of the tunnel. I came away from this record feeling the latter. Even while misery and melancholia can be found everywhere on this record, there are tinges of hope. For me, “State Hospital,” from which the title is derived, provides a great example, telling the story of a hapless woman “born into a grave”, painfully referred to as “a bloody curse word in a pedestrian verse”—yet the end of the song turns surprisingly upward with the repeated cry “All is not lost.” The ending track “Oil Slick” is remarkably self-aware and tongue-in-cheek, as Hutchinson admits that his voice lends itself to melancholy: “Only an idiot would swim through the s**t I write,” he laments. “How can I talk of light and warmth / I’ve got a voice like a gutter in a toxic storm.” And yet, again, as the song concludes, the music builds and lifts, along with the verse “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 will be fine / In these disastrous times.”
The lyrics above provide just one example of the self-deprecation that abounds on this record, as in typical fashion Frightened Rabbit almost comes across as self-defeating, as if to say, “Don’t listen to us, ‘cause we really suck.” And yet, it’s this self-deprecation that actually endears us to this band, and Pedestrian Verse has given us even more to love. Overall, I feel this is their best record yet, and an early frontrunner for best indie-rock album of 2013.