I always love a good ‘surprise’ album- something that comes from out of left field to completely blow you away.
Part of the fun of pursuing music in earnest is that each new album holds the promise of being something you come to really love. But not every album can be that album, and what do you do when an artist whose work was genius fails to meet expectations the second time around? What then?
This was precisely my problem in March of 2010. I’d just finished being thoroughly engrossed in 2008’s Midnight Organ Fight (don’t forget: it’s a euphemism for sex! try working it into conversation), and was getting amped about it’s successor, The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Despite being similarly praised from a critical standpoint, Winter was a huge disappointment to me.
There were a few songs on it I liked OK. But there’s a handful of songs I like on nearly every album I listen to. Maybe it’s my fault, but nonetheless I never managed to connect with that album. I tried tracking back further, to 2007’s Sing the Greys, but at that point I just wanted vocalist Scott Hutchinson to shut up.
And that’s where I left it. So you can imagine the trepidation with which I approached Pedestrian Verse. Since I’d pirated every last bit of my Frightened Rabbit collection though, it seemed only fair that I at least put up the cash to buy one record, as a sort of amends. In case you can’t sense what’s coming, I’ll spoil The Twist: Pedestrian Verse is a(n understated) masterpiece.
Too much exposition; here is a track for your ears to chew on:
I’m throwing ‘Holy‘ out there because it was the first track that I found myself looking forward to on the album. It continues the trend (see: ‘Head Rolls Off’) of a highly sardonic attitude towards religion. The guitar work, both lead and bass, is top notch, and the lyricism, while evoking a pretty elemntary example of wordplay, does so to an impressive degree:
I don’t mind / being lonely
So leave me alone
Aw, you’re acting all holy
Me- I’m just full of holes
The further parlance of biblical terms into barbed criticisms on top of the up-tempo pace makes this great track have near the start of the record. I’ll save discovering the epic, expansive opener ‘Acts of Man’ for yourself. Painting a quasi-tragic picture of all humankind through a series of two-stanza vignettes, it’s incredibly heartfelt without being trite, getting at the wide spectrum of emotional experiences that define the human condition.
I’ll insert briefly my comment on the bizarre choice of ‘The Woodpile’ as the lead single for the album. It’s a perfectly fine song, and maybe it fits some criterion for radio-friendliness that I’m missing, but there are so many better tracks on the album. In fact, if it was up to me, ‘Late March, Death March‘ would be the song I’d most want to hear on the radio.
As with the earlier offered track, there is no love for religion to be found here. My own personal bias is undoubtedly bleeding in here, but I can’t help but appreciate how well this is done:
I cursed in church again, and the hand-claps all fell quiet
I watched the statue of you cry
. . .
There’s a funeral in your eyes
and a drunk priest at your side
. . .
Yeah, there isn’t a God, so I save my breath
Pray silence for the road ahead
And this March death march, March!, Death!, March!
Yeah I went too far
What’s interesting is the light, fast percussion that pervades the entire song is so much faster than any march could ever be. Typically marches are a slow affair, and they certainly never exceed ‘brisk’ in their describing. Yet here, ‘Late March, Death March’ is unbridled in its refrain, pausing only for the verses. Best lyric of the album is in this song, too, transcribed at the top of the entry (it is wrong everywhere else on the internet).
Everything after, the alternating tempos of ‘December’s Traditions’, the honest confessions of ‘Dead Now’, is part of a circuitous route towards the cinematic climax at the album’s heart, ‘State Hospital’. Released as a single a few months before the record, I head it, liked the video, and didn’t think much of it. But in the context of Pedestrian Verse it’s so much more.
‘Acts of Man’ sets the stage: we see, from far up above, a world full of flawed, selfish people doing their best but failing, often quite miserably. ‘State Hospital’ plunges us down into that world, until our vantage is limited to a single individual. And there, amid the desperation, is a song about hope. It’s one of my favorite moments of the album.
‘Nitros Gas’ is a little indulgent, if I’m being honest; it’s my least favorite type of FR song. That said, it’s a serviceable comedown track, and sets up the playful ‘Oil Slick’ for a very satisfying close.
Frightened Rabbit has never suffered from good songcraft, but I maintain that they’re at their best when that skill is used to communicate something worthwhile. Pedestrian Verse is an elegantly layered construction with strong narrative framing and thoughtful motifs threaded throughout. The expanse of it is breathtaking. Listen to this record.
Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse
(At time of press, the CD was cheaper than the MP3s!)