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The Psyche Of A Frightened Rabbit

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Now that the Scottish rockers have weathered The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, Dylan Williams looks at what their recent work says about them to date.

While this is no argument for the assertion of psychology in music criticism, plotting a set of shifting Venn diagrams over the career of Scottish indie rockers Frightened Rabbit would produce some awfully opaque wall art. Without much analysis, it's easy enough to pick three themes that have dominated their songs to varying degrees over their three albums: allusions to disease or fatigue, interactions with rivers and the sea (namely, a proximity to the Firth of Forth), and girl troubles.

Admittedly, their debut Sings The Greys mainly featured the latter, but despite ringing out bashful and ebullient, it was still filtered through a sense of sad, tiring monotony. With follow-up The Midnight Organ Fight, Frightened Rabbit had something approaching a magnum opus: an intense break-up record veiled behind pathological failings and self-reproach. The eventual turning point from despair during that narrative occurred remarkably late on, with the choice to walk away from suicide in the Forth.

Which brings us to The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, their latest effort that should expectedly be their 'moving on' album. Hell, you could certainly be forgiven for thinking as much. But more so, it's about retreat, detoxification and recovery from the draining periods and excesses of touring in 2008.

The setting moves from the brink of the Forth to a remote fishing village in Fife where lead singer and songwriter Scott wrote the album in seclusion. 'Swim Until You Can't See Land' is a dare to keep pushing yourself after things have ground down, combating the sense of listlessness the band had after a year of fatigue. The woman who haunted The Midnight Organ Fight is still in sight, but now she's a harmless dot on the shore line.

Paralleling this notion is how physical decline and the incidence of disease have receded. In their words, the liver spots and depression have faded and the tumour's diminished. There are relapses: 'Skip The Youth' concedes tiredness at the toils of life, and though 'Nothing Like You' is an ode to rebounding, it can't avoid sounding like a parting shot to the woman who walked out. But for the most part, from that seaside cottage she's an aging memory, not a ghost.

In fact, on TWOMD all the memories seem dyed by the smack of the sea. If it wasn't for a single line signifying that it's a sex song, 'The Wrestle' could, in effect, be an indie band's translation of The Old Man And The Sea.

Morose undertones aren't apparent in Frightened Rabbit's live shows (beyond the content of the songs themselves): sensibly, professionals keep their private lives at home, even if musicians have to sing about theirs at work. At a recent show at Bristol's Thekla, the band was brawny, energetic and good natured; Scott reciting the clownish drunken antics of the previous night, and then humorously debunking the rock star myth. When quietness called though, he abandoned the band, mic and monitor to lean over the stage's edge and sing 'Poke', one of their most fragile songs, face to face with the crowd. Tackling heartfelt gestures like that without sounding mawkish or effeminate helps set Frightened Rabbit apart from the recent flock of earnest guitar bands.

So coming back to the diagrams; it's really two things that make the analysis worthwhile. Firstly, Scott has wittingly entrenched themes in the band's vocabulary and will frequently revisit them. Just as repetition usually helps to make a point, referencing old images adds power through cohesion and familiarity. And secondly, by reiterating threads and thoughts, the themes age linearly across albums and deconstructing their causes and progressions is vital for connecting with a band that delivers such personal subject matter.

The Venn patterns have certainly shifted, and their world isn't painted in monochrome these days. The opening line of their first song ("What's the blues/when you've got the greys?") has been echoed throughout Frightened Rabbit's catalogue, but is finally upended in TWOMD's concluding statement 'Living In Colour'. That original diagram may be hard to recognise today, after the colour has flooded in. Regaining a positive mindset will assuredly leak into a set of songs, and when Frightened Rabbit say they're not miserable anymore, you can just about believe them…

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