Frightened Rabbit broadens scope and sound on 'Pedestrian Verse'

Photo by Tim Richmond

Frightened Rabbit leader Scott Hutchison picked “Pedestrian Verse” as the working title of the band’s fourth album as a reminder to himself to avoid cliches in his lyrics. That wasn’t really a problem on any of the band’s previous releases, but it’s a sign that Hutchison was determined to push himself as a songwriter. It worked: “Pedestrian Verse” is broader in scope and more varied in sound than Frightened Rabbit’s earlier albums, and every bit as riveting as the best moments — of which there were plenty — from 2010’s “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” and 2008’s “The Midnight Organ Fight.”

Credit for that probably goes to the rest of the band, which played a larger role in writing songs on “Pedestrian Verse.” Still, it’s Hutchison’s mournful voice and searing lyrics that anchor Frightened Rabbit. He’s unflinchingly direct on album opener “Acts of Man” — a deceptive title, given the litany of faults (his own and others’) that Hutchison chronicles in a falsetto over an uncharacteristic piano vamp shot through with spikes of trebly guitar and a booming bass drum — and defiant on “Holy,” a downhearted anthem carried by a surging bassline.

Hutchison tends toward introspection on songs about pulling away — “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” from “The Winter of Mixed Drinks,” for example, or “My Backwards Walk” from “The Midnight Organ Fight” — but the band turns outward somewhat on “Pedestrian Verse.” They reprise “State Hospital,” a weary song with a sliver of hope that was the title track of an EP last fall, and explore the difficulty of hiding from ourselves on “Backyard Skulls,” which pairs dense guitars with a burbling keyboard.

The centerpiece of the album, though, is “The Woodpile,” a song that reaches out in a moment of need instead of retreating. It’s a vivid tune with a soaring chorus, and a middle section that throws off showers of sparks during a guitar break. Then, after a pause for breath, the band leaps into the last refrain. It’s a powerful moment on a song, and album, that are anything but pedestrian.

— Eric R. Danton

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