For Frightened Rabbit’s first album since 2010’s excellent The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, the band wanted to break out of some pre-established patterns: It moved to major label Atlantic Records after three albums with British indie FatCat; the album was written as a group, instead of singer-guitarist Scott Hutchison exiling himself somewhere to do all the writing and arranging; and Hutchison wanted to break free from himself. At the beginning of the songwriting cycle for the album, he bought a new notebook and wrote “Pedestrian Verse” on the cover to motivate himself: “Every time I opened the book to work, those words on that lovely brown cover challenged me,” Hutchison wrote for Clash Magazine. “Don’t go writing about ‘the sky falling,’ mate, or how she is your ‘world.’ Don’t you fucking dare!” The intent was for Pedestrian Verse to be about other people instead of looking inward “like some sort of whiny bastard harpist.”
Events in his life eventually found their way onto Pedestrian Verse, but an album without Hutchison’s biting self-effacement wouldn’t be a proper Frightened Rabbit album anyway. Over the years, the group has been lumped in with the proud tradition of sad Scottish bastards, and Pedestrian Verse’s moody “Nitrous Gas” shows why. “Leave the acute warm-heartedness / Go where the joyless bastard lives / He’s dying to bring you down with him / Suck in the bright red major keys / Spit out the blue minor misery / I’m dying to bring you down with me.” But Hutchison’s songwriting voice doesn’t so much wallow as make cutting remarks from the end of the bar. (Sometimes literally—see “Fuck This Place,” from the group’s 2011 tour EP.)
Perhaps more accurately, Hutchison falls in with another proud Scottish tradition: the ability to make the gloomy anthemic. Just as the melancholic “Things” opened The Winter Of Mixed Drinks and gave way to the exuberant “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” the slow simmer of “Acts Of Man” segues into the triumphant “Backyard Skulls” (another excellent song about the hidden secrets of suburbia). It, “Late March, Death March,” “Housing (In),” and “Oil Slick” follow the path established by Frightened Rabbit songs like “Swim,” “I Feel Better,” “The Modern Leper,” “Go-Go-Girls,” “Nothing Like You,” and “The Greys.”
But the album diverges from precedent, too. The bass and percussion of “Holy” recall early New Order (like “Broken Promise”). A fine layer of distortion permeates the martial drum beat, bass, and occasional backup vocals in “Dead Now,” a song that captures the spectrum of Pedestrian Verse: It starts quietly, with drums, bass, and Hutchison’s vocals, but gradually builds into something exuberant. The song has nice, inconspicuous production flourishes, as the guitar tones change, extra instrumentation bubbles up to the surface and drops down, and Gordon Skene’s keys catalyze a conclusion that sounds joyful—only Frightened Rabbit could make the repetition of “There is something wrong with me” a triumphant sing-along moment. “Will you love me in spite of these tics and inconsistencies?” Hutchison asks, but he knows the answer to the question already. The music that carries those words makes it sound less like beseeching and more like a raucous embrace of his shortcomings.
That could describe Frightened Rabbit’s M.O. in general. Hutchison intended “Pedestrian Verse” to be a self-directed warning, but as a title for his band’s latest album, it reads as proudly defiant.