When Frightened Rabbit returned to the studio for the first time since the breakthrough smash of The Midnight Organ Fight, they felt compelled to turn everything up. More time and money at their disposal was simpy too good an opportunity to shy away from. The product of this was The Winter Of Mixed Drinks and, while there is nothing wrong with the songs on that album per se, the whole record just felt slightly over-blown. The heart-on-sleeve laments were still there but perhaps, upon reflection, it lacked the pillow-clenching humanity and the palpable fragility that made Organ Fight such a rewarding triumph.
After a healthy amount of time off, the band return this month with a brand new EP, State Hospital, which is, aside from a self-released tour EP last Summer, their first work since Mixed Drinks and their first new music since signing to uber-label Atlantic Records.
One of the stand-outs on the EP is Boxing Night, and it’s a track which suggest that the band have re-found that sense of time and space that went missing on their previous record. Meandering along on an organic tapestry of softly plucked guitars and the bands signature backing vocals, there is more than enough breathing space for Scott’s marvelous turn-of-phrase to be the main point of focus once again. Attentively sketched and pain-stakingly honest portraits of human interactions still dominate his writing, and he get’s deep into the nitty-gritty heart of torn relationships once again, crooning; “Well I can’t call you ‘all mine’ anymore, I can’t call you full-stop. But you know you can call me up anytime, call me whatever the fuck you want.”
At this point in the bands career it’s hard to imagine Scott writing about anything other than the constantly evolving and changing relationships between two people, but his ability to find new and interesting ways of viewing and revealing the much-covered topic, means that the songs, and the points raised within them, never feel tired or repeated.
Home From War is a fine example of this; a stunning track that compares someone coming out of the other side of a relationship with a returning soldier; “Walking around like a soldier who’s from War, lost in a foreign landscape they used to know. Will I ever feel like I belong anywhere?” he sings, before ending on a far more defiant note than we’re used to; “Now I’m standing dishevelled at your door. Covered in dust and dirt but full of hope. We might never be normal again, but who cares? I ask, who cares?” In weaker hands, sentiments such as these could come across as saccharine, but there’s always been an honesty and credibility to Frightened Rabbit’s music, and particularly Scott’s delivery, that this is simply never the case.
Another much touched-upon subject is that of the outsider, and the title-track tackles that theme head-on. A rousing and anthemic song, it’s centred around a girl who is a “slipped disc in the spine of community” and someone who has been “born into a grave“. Picthing it in third-person again gives the track a fresh feel and we can forgive the sometimes clumsy metaphors for the sheer spirit the track contains. (Interestingly, State Hospital, is the only track here that will feature on the bands forthcoming fourth LP.)
The remainder of the EP is made up of Off; a song which revisits the themes first found on Old Old Fashioned; of the ever-imposing nature of technology on our humanistic endeavours. “We’ll have no telephones here, just a gentle mouth to a smitten ear. No technology here, such heady chemistry can’t be engineered.” It’s obviously a subject close to Scotts heart and the track is as delicate and touching as the EP gets.
Wedding Gloves draws proceedings to a close and it’s a brilliantly unsettling finale; the soft falsetto of Hutchinson juxtaposed by the slimy purr of Aidan Moffatt. The subject matter remains somewhat ambiguous, or at least the role of each narrator does – there is talk of wedding vows, ‘melting morals’ and odd perversions – but regardless of this it’s a wonderful departure from the norm and a quite brilliant change of pace.
Some may have worried that signing to a major label would send Frightened Rabbit further down the kitchen-sink pop approach of Mixed Drinks but, if anything, it seems to have simply stabilised the band. State Hospital is a focused, and often bold, statement of intent. It’s also the sound of a band both confident with what they’re doing, and completely brilliant at doing it.
Roll-on the new album then.
Words by Tom Johnson