Frightened Rabbit - "Head Rolls Off" (The Midnight Organ Fight)
Frightened Rabbit’s first album, Sing the Greys, received a warm reception from critics and U.S. listeners when it was reissued by FatCat last year. A selection of demo recordings that core band members (and brothers) Scott and Grant decided to turn into a full album, Sing the Greys had several virtues: it was incredibly catchy; it displayed a sense of humor; it was unforced; and (the confluence of these virtues) it was a lot of fun to listen to. Frightened Rabbit’s new album, The Midnight Organ Fight has 14 songs that were written and recorded as part of a single album. Predictably, The Midnight Organ Fight is sharper, more polished, and better in parts than Sing the Greys. There’s only one unfortunate downside. This sharper, more polished effort displays fewer of the things that made the first album so enjoyable.
Though it’s always dangerous to conflate author and narrator (particularly in song lyrics), Frightened Rabbit like to present themselves as shabby, downtrodden guys. For instance, in “The Modern Leper,” the first single from The Midnight Organ Fight, lead singer Scott puts his predicament thusly: “I am ill, but I’m not dead, and I don’t know which of those I prefer.” On “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms,” he sings to one of his exes that “I might not want you back, but I want to kill him,” before giving up and conceding at the end of the song that “I’m still in love with you and can’t admit it yet.”
This lyrical pose, however, is belied by the production work, which is anything but shabby or tossed-off. Listen to the way the slide guitar on “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms” is perfectly mixed, or the way that the guitar tone at the beginning of “Fast Blood” has just the right amount of reverb and distortion, and you can imagine producer Peter Katis and the band poring over the songs in the studio. (Katis is responsible for immaculately produced bands like Interpol and The National.) The idea may be to write songs that sound ragged and spontaneous, but there’s clearly a lot of work going into each of them.
Which is emphatically not a criticism of The Midnight Organ Fight; there’s a lot of material here that stands up with any pop band recording today (particularly the four songs that open the album). It’s just unfortunate that this sharpness in Frightened Rabbit’s sound involves an inevitable narrowing of the band’s style. Part of the charm of Sing the Greys came from songs like the sprawling “Square 9,” which was not really an epic pop song but a stripped-down band doing their best impression of an epic pop song. It was exactly the sort of casual, tossed-off masterpiece that the band’s lyrics suggest they were trying to produce. Now that they’re poised to join the ranks of fellow Glaswegian pop juggernauts like Belle and Sebastian or the Pastels, the albums may be more consistent and professional, but unforced moments like that may be fewer and farther between.