Album Review: Frightened Rabbit – “Pedestrian Verse”

English folk rockers Mumford & Sons won the Grammy for Album of the Year, beating Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Jack White’s Blunderbuss, and The Black Keys’ El Camino, and there was one band that was likely seething about it: Frightened Rabbit. In a January interview, Frightened Rabbit lead singer Hutchison stated in his thick Scottish accent that he “fucking hated [Mumford & Sons],” because they “kept shoveling that same shit.” But while Mumford & Sons may have taken home a Grammy for the same old shit, Hutchison has completely stepped up his game with Frightened Rabbit’s new album, Pedestrian Verse.

It’s likely that Hutchison was so heated in the interview because he commonly sees comparisons between his band and the others of the folk-rock genre that seem to be sweeping the Top 40. Bands like The Lumineers, The Avett Brothers, and countless others have taken indie folk all the way to the bank. Frightened Rabbit have simply taken that type of music to a much more personal place.

While The Lumineers are content to sum up the concept of love in their massive hit “Ho (Hey)” with lyrics like “I belong with you, you belong with me/You’re my sweetheart,” Hutchison is more apt to say things like “Let’s tell every girl we marry/we’ll always love them when we probably won’t,” in the album’s opener “Acts of Man.”

Mumford & Sons also make their music more digestible with references to religion. On “I Will Wait,” Marcus Mumford sings, “I’ll kneel down/Wait for now/I’ll kneel down/Know my ground,” while Hutchison has a slightly different take: “March death march/Ah there isn’t a God so I’ll save my breath/Pray silence for the road ahead.”

Frightened Rabbit was the name that Hutchison’s mother gave him when he was a shy, quiet child. Now that he’s got some friends around him, he’s shouting his lungs out about things that not a whole lot of people have the guts to admit. And while there are quite a few darker themes that Hutchison addresses, there are moments of cathartic beauty that seem to come about when these poisons are expelled. For instance on the opener, “Acts of Man,” Hutchison paints the picture of a starkly fallible man acting on impulse and hurting people because of it. The chorus chants that there are no heroic acts of man here, but at the very end Hutchison states, “I have never wanted more than to be your man/To build a house around you/I am just like all the rest of them/Sorry, selfish, trying to improve/I’m here/Not heroic but I try.” It’s in this way that Hutchison acknowledges the flaws inherent in living through life, but there is still beauty to be found doing it.

“Nitrous Gas” is one of the darker songs on the album with just Hutchison and a single guitar talking about how he’s “Dying to tell you/that I’m dying here,” just before an angelic chorus of voices come in and lift the song. Then, the pounding of drums jump in, another guitar takes up the riff, and Hutchison is reaching for the nitrous instead of just giving up.

It isn’t just the lyrics and melody that gives the album weight. The drumming by Scott’s brother Grant is powerful and driving. While their last album, Winter of Mixed Drinks, sometimes stagnated into stereotypical folk repetition, Pedestrian Verse is constantly striving, constantly reaching. This is likely due in part to producer Leo Abrahams’ involvement with the album. Abrahams has worked with people like Peter Jackson and Florence and the Machine, which undoubtedly contributes to the large, comfortable sound of Pedestrian Verse.

In an age where people either shirk from personal expression in lyrics by hiding behind poetic vagueness or reducing it to some clichéd catch phrase, Frightened Rabbit cuts through the bullshit with biting lyrics that’ll catch your ear and soon have you singing along despite yourself.

Frightened Rabbit on tour
3/8 – Seattle, WA – Showbox at the Market
3/9 – Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theatre
3/11 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
3/12 – Solana Beach, CA – Belly Up Tavern
3/13 – Los Angeles, CA – The Music Box
3/18 – Englewood, CO – Gothic Theatre
3/19 – Lincoln, NE – Bourbon Theatre
3/21 – Minneapolis, MN – Varsity Theatre
3/22 – Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theatre
3/23 – Chicago, IL – Riviera Theatre
3/24 – Nashville, TN – 3rd & Lindsley
3/26 – Cincinnati, OH – Bogarts
3/27 – Louisville, KY – Headliners Music Hall
3/29 – Millvale, PA – Mr Smalls
3/30 – Detroit, MI – St. Andrews Hall
3/31 – Toronto, ON – Phoenix Concert Theatre
4/2 – Boston, MA – House of Blues
4/3 – Providence, RI – Fete
4/4 – New York, NY – Terminal 5
4/6 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
4/7 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
4/8 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
4/10 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade
4/11 – Birmingham, AL – WorkPlay Theatre
4/12 – Little Rock, AR – The Rev Room
4/13 – Dallas, TX – Trees

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