You’ve Had One Too Many, Mate
Frightened Rabbit are one of those bands that’s totally alright; they’re not egregiously bad or overwhelmingly innovative in their approach to grandiose indie rock. They manage to get strong reviews from pertinent sources especially on this one, their third, The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Previously, 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight got even stronger ones as a rawer, more intimate, even whinier release.
With this one they’ve amplified things a bit, added a fourth member and a dash of optimism to sound less pathetically drunk and depressed. Lead vocalist and songwriter Scott Hutchison is the heart and soul of Frightened Rabbit, defining their sound for better or worse. His accented talk-moan is a hybrid of several other lead vocalists’ worst characteristics. He’s not as distinct or striking as Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, not as nuanced or varied as Thom Yorke, not as beguiling and universal as Win Butler. He sings slow enough so that his heavy Scottish brogue comes through in no charming way.
People love to point to two songs as signs that Hutchison and his crew are looking up, namely the first, ecstatic single “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” and “Not Miserable.” The sonic nature of the former is upbeat, but it’s a simple song with a simple refrain that feels more manic than optimistic—what will you do once you’re far away from the shore with your legs good and tired? The instrumental richness is welcome in the second half, but any song sounds grandiose and joyous with an orchestral conclusion. Then comes the maudlin “The Loneliness and the Scream,” a song, again, whose purely aural nature seems fairly contented but cannot be offset by Hutchison’s wail of “Oh the loneliness!”
It all starts to feel like that friend who has a couple drinks and can’t stop talking about his ex-girlfriend or how he hasn’t had sex in ages. You need a caring audience for that kind of venting to fall on sympathetic ears. Fans of Organ Fight, or maybe The Mountain Goats fanatics, might be the only ones willing to sign up for the job.
The truth is, the equation seems similar from beginning to end: start a song slow, strum the guitar, slowly build layers on top of layers, and by the end of tracks like “Nothing Like You” there’s faster strumming, more instruments, and more energy. There’s very little variety throughout the record—”Living in Colour” manages to benefit from hippy-dippy Utopian merriment. Final song “Yes, I Would,” in what seemed like a promising signoff, turns out to be full of Hutchison’s explorations of his non-existent vocal register. Its slow, complex bed of drums, horns, and guitars are a good start, but his terrible wail brings The Winter of Mixed Drinks to a screeching, silent halt.