At first listen, Frightened Rabbit might seem like your standard moody, folk rock, break-up album band that hails from the U.K. But as the band proved with its heart-rending 2008 release Midnight Organ Fight, it’s more than just a bunch of young lads wailing about the trials of love in a thick Scottish brogue. However, its latest record, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, does a lot less to differentiate Frightened Rabbit from its numerous counterparts. And while Mixed Drinks is definitely easier to swallow than haggis, the Scots’ most recent effort doesn’t hit the sweet tooth.
The Winter of Mixed Drinks
This time around, Frightened Rabbit forgoes its poignant, self-deprecating folk-pop songs for an emphasis on droning melodies and heavy-handed guitars. Gone are the charmingly self-loathing Scots who constructed some of the most frantically emotive and personal songs out of the Glasgow scene. Frightened Rabbit’s focus is now on the less personal Scottish seas and the vague and elusive notion “loneliness” evidenced in songs like “The Loneliness and the Scream.”
Album opener “Things” is a drastic departure from “Modern Leper,” the delicious first sip of Rabbit’s prior album. In “Things,” lead singer Scott Hutchinson’s signature accent drawls over a drone of reverb-heavy electric guitars layered above feedback and a relentless bass-heavy drumbeat. The entire song builds in promise of a crescendo, as Hutchinson’s urgent songwriting style becomes more evident, yet the song never fully reaches any sort of release, instead winding down just as you are expecting it to take off.
Refusing to be pinned down, Frightened Rabbit then treats the listener to the delightful and sunny “Swim Until You Can’t See Land.” Easily likeable, one can see why it’s the chosen single of the album. A cheery finger-picked guitar leads off the track, followed by Hutchinson’s urgings to do exactly as the title suggests while the band backs him up with perfectly pitched harmonies. Unlike “Things,” “Swim” really does take off in the final minute, delivering satisfaction in the climax with horns, well-placed strings and some rowdy handclaps.
Mixed Drinks certainly ventures in a different direction (if not an exciting or significant one) for the Scottish folk aficionados. It appears the band finally caved, adding bass to its music and another guitar player for an extra set of hands to help fabricate its thickly layered record. The production, which is considerably slicker than before, remains centered on Hutchinson’s distinct and at times overwrought vocals. Mixed Drinks’s charm works when the band focuses on harmonies, jaunty melodies and sing-a-long reprises, but loses its potential edge on directionless songs like “Foot Shooter” that get lost in the swell of production.
You can’t blame a band for trying to evolve its sound — Frightened Rabbit’s progression is natural and even commendable. With Mixed Drinks, it just happened to lay it on a little thick. Even so, the band’s obvious knack for lyrical melody seeps through the Phil Spector-like drama on standouts like “Living in Color,” but would be more effective if they toned it down a notch. The figurative rabbit simply needs to retreat into its hole a little further, and all will be well.