Sometimes – especially in Scotland – life has a way of reminding you that everything isn’t all smiles, sunshine and unreserved romance, and that to that effect, Frightened Rabbit serve a purpose like no other band.
As veritable champions of their own brand of ‘healer-rock’, the band, backed by Scott Hutchison’s reflective, tormented internal monologue, craft a blend of melancholic woe and optimistic splendour that washes down like a sweet, warming malt whisky.
With their fifth studio album ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’, produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner (Sharron Van Etton, Local Natives) in New York, Frightened Rabbit release their most challenging, mature and immediate album to date.
Hutchison’s adroit, cathartic lyricism remains present as homage is paid to familiar themes of religion, sobriety and breakups, although disappointingly scarce is the astute wit of previous releases.
Small matters aside, there’s a distinct, welcome shift musically, as explosive soundscapes marry up against folk-tinged acoustic laments to splendid effect.
With former touring guitarist Simon Liddell replacing Gordon Skene, his presence, whether subconsciously or not, has pointed the band towards a more layered, dream-like vista, with walls of fuzzy, distorted noise, electronic touches and sharp drum loops opening the floodgates to a more expansive sound that adds superimposes more colour to the otherwise grey.
The almost dance-like, brooding, synth-driven ‘Woke up Hurting’ and haunting, dark ‘Lump Street’ best evoke this impression, with the latter’s dystopian feel far removed from any Frightened Rabbit work to date.
The solemn, piano-based Opener ‘Death Dream’ sets an early marker of tone, as a chorus of ‘You died in your sleep last night’ finds the accompaniment of ambient instrumentals and brass flourishes, a feat repeated later on with the majestic, ukulele-tinged ‘Little Drum’.
The flawless ‘Get Out’ and its ode to the consuming addictiveness of love sparks the album fully to life, followed by the rhythmic, meaty ‘Wish I Was Sober’.
Hutchison’s anxious, anthemic vocals take centre on ‘Still Want To Be Here’ as he sings “Junk fiends dance at the bus stop next to the rodeo clowns… But I still want to be here,” sings Hutchison in “Still Want to be Here”, while album highlight ‘Break’ adds formidable layers of pounding percussion and scything, fuzzy licks of guitar.
Following this is the morbid love ballad ‘400 Bones’, before the acoustic-guitar driven, tavern-esque lament of ‘Die Like A Rich Boy’ ends the album with a soaring ode to hydrocodone dreams and switchblades.
With ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’, Frightened Rabbit’s pursuit of a more musically expansive, synth-backed sound marks a change from ‘Pedestrian Verse’, one which allows for diverse flirtations against the introspective melancholy and unbridled optimism that Hutchison’ lyrics offer. One that ultimately pays off.