In medieval times it was widely held that your state of mind was inseparably tied to your state of body. Hence all the talk of apothecaries in Shakespeare and Ben Jonson’s Humour Plays. The theory may have been rightly trashed by modern medicine, but that hasn’t stopped it persisting – metaphorically, at least – in the songs of Frightened Rabbit. When singer Scott Hutchison conveys excitement, for instance, “fast blood hurricanes through me”, when he’s defeated and desperate he’s “a modern leper on his last leg”, or, most vividly of all, when a loved one leaves him his “spine collapsed and his eyes rolled back to stare at my starving brain.” Metaphor doesn’t really pack more corporeal punch than that: at times The Midnight Organ Fight comes across like a deformed Picasso figure rendered in words.
Approached from a less literal angle, Glasgow-based Frightened Rabbit’s second full-length (following last year’s Sing The Greys) is a quintessential break-up album. That’s not to say it’s mostly downbeat – as toe-tappers like Old Old Fashioned testify – but there are at least four prominent songs that deal with the post-mortem episode of love. I Feel Better is a classic get-over-you number, Good Arms vs Bad Arms is less pacifistic – “I might not want you back but I want to kill him” – while Floating In The Forth flirts with the notion of oblivion after a painful parting, before concluding: “I think I’ll save suicide for another year.” But, in its hazy, tender, Dylan-esque way, Poke is the most affecting and arguably the finest song on the album.
Before they were a quartet, Frightened Rabbit was the nom-de-plume of singer/songwriter Scott, which may explain why words largely take a precedence over sounds in their oevre. There’s a stubborn yet nuanced personality lurking in all the songs, whether it’s defending its atheism and confronting death in Head Rolls Off or scrutinizing the value of the one-night stand in Keep Yourself Warm: “You won’t find love in a hole / It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.”
With such lyrical chutzpah, the music was never going to matter as much as it does for a group like label mates the Twilight Sad. In Frightened Rabbit’s case it’s accompaniment for accompaniment’s sake: an uncomplicated, pretension-free alt.folk canvas of scuzzy guitars, organ swells and brush-stick drums. Songs build patiently but never topple over into unrestrained noise or feedback. Sometimes, though, you find yourself yearning for more of the percussive energy that drove tracks like Be Less Rude and The Greys on their debut LP.
With not one but two excellent albums released within a year, though, and a hard-won reputation for their impassioned live displays, Frightened Rabbit are ready to become much more than a quirky obscurity: The Midnight Organ Fight will be the catalyst for a wider appreciation of yet another great Scottish band. It’s an album that invokes a range of emotions but generally leaves you exhilarated; enough, in Frightened Rabbit’s unique idiom, to make the fast blood hurricane through you.
The Midnight Organ Fight is out on 14 Apr via FatCat.
Frightened Rabbit play King Tut’s, Glasgow on 12 Apr, Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh on 13 Apr and The Green Room Venue, Edinburgh on 24 Apr