On Frightened Rabbit’s 2008 album, The Midnight Organ Fight, frontman Scott Hutchison dramatically wailed, “I think I’ll save suicide for another day.” He was like the drunk party pooper who points to an empty beer bottle and proclaims, “That’s how I feel inside.” Fast-forward five years, and the band’s new album, Pedestrian Verse, begins with the self-effacing lyric, “I am that dickhead in the kitchen/Giving wine to your best girl’s glass.” Sporting a figurative shit-eating grin and a touch of nihilism, Hutchinson and company kick off their latest bout of miserablism over a reverb-y drum beat and guitar arrangement. Sounds that could fill a stadium don’t often go hand in hand with depressed Scottish men who’ve finally come to terms with the brutal absurdity of the human condition, but Frightened Rabbit has represented that very unlikely combination for years.
The opening track, “Acts of Man,” suggests Pedestrian Verse will cover usual Frightened Rabbit ground: death, loss, sickness, grief, and escape, with some Catholicism thrown in for good measure. Yet the rest of the album is surprisingly optimistic. On the single “The Woodpile,” Hutchison begs a lover to come over, not out of loneliness or horniness, but out of genuine interest in spending time with her. This isn’t the same guy who once ordered his sexual partner to “twist and whisper the wrong name.” On “December’s Traditions,” Hutchison proposes to his love interest the possibility of escape from misery: “After months of grieving, fuck the grief, I’m leaving/Will you leave with me?”
While more hopeful, though, Pedestrian Verse is still riddled with doubt, particularly in regards to religion. He questions the existence of God on “Late March, Death March,” struggling to comprehend how a higher power could have created such miserable beings. And yet he seems happy to embrace his own imperfection on “Holy,” singing, “Thank God I’m full of holes.” Better yet, Hutchinson sells this oxymoronic idea via the sheer beauty of his voice. It might not make complete sense, but you find yourself inspired anyway. Hutchison’s penchant for amateur wordplay is on full display here (he contrasts being “holy” with being “full of holes”), but the track’s chugging energy is more than enough to make up for a cheesy pun.
Whereas the fuzz on 2010’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks muddled prodding tracks like “Things,” the use of reverb on Pedestrian Verse lends the songs a spontaneous, us-against-the-world urgency. From Hutchison’s newfound enthusiasm for life to the band’s stadium sound, Frightened Rabbit has finally created a reasonable glimmer of hope—sans blind optimism, of course. For those that like a completely bummed-out Frightened Rabbit, however, fear not. On “Nitrous Gas,” Hutchison sings, “I’m dying to be unhappy again.” He’ll find a way.