*** (out of four)
It's hard not to love an underdog, and Frightened Rabbit is a great one. Maybe it's a Scottish thing – there's no getting around singer Scott Hutchison's heavy brogue – but there's a presumed scruffiness to the men who populate this band's songs. You want to root for them, if for no other reason than the fact that these drunk craftsmen types seem far more appropriate as rock stars than, say, the sappy mandolineers of Mumford & Sons, to whom Frightened Rabbit frequently are compared.
With their fourth album and major label debut, “Pedestrian Verse,” Frightened Rabbit’s transition from underdog status to stardom suddenly doesn't seem so far out of the question. This latest effort has neither the raw emotional vulnerability of the band's 2008 classic “The Midnight Organ Fight” nor the smooth accessibility of 2010's “The Winter of Mixed Drinks,” but its raggedly earnest, self-deprecating songwriting is striking and familiar. The guitar solos are a cut above anything the band's done before. “Pedestrian Verse” is one of the most credible bids for what rock music should be in the 2010s, laced with sprawling, U2-style guitar parts and infused with Neutral Milk Hotel's indie folk weirdness.
Many songs here, such as standout singles “Dead Now” and “The Woodpile,” are full of Hutchison’s trademark morbid and even grotesque imagery. Combined with the pro-homestead vibes of endlessly hummable interludes “Housing (In)” and “Housing (Out),” this create a permeating gothic mood. Frightened Rabbit always have been scholars of tragicomic masculinity, and “Act of Man” is one of the finest entries in that catalog to date. Reveling in human flaw over an array of tense guitars and spare piano notes, the song descends into lyrical refrain that scans as a mission statement for a modest band on the brink of something bigger: “I'm here,” Hutchinson sings, “Not heroic, but I try.”
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.
Copyright © 2015, RedEye