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- Frightened Rabbit »
Would we really love Belle & Sebastian so much if they actually were “twee”, through and through? Wouldn’t Arab Strap just be an embarrassment if they actually were incontinent from DTs? From the word go, B&S were the sum of their contradictions: "I’m outside the butchers / with a knife and a bike-chain / la-la-lala-la-la…" ; likewise the ’Strap took the urgency of rehearsing for the first teenage kiss with that girl you fancy, and built it up to a Mogwai-like ecstasy of guitars.
Your new favourite Scottish band, Frightened Rabbit may be three-parts Idlewild to one part of each of the aforementioned, but those are the parts that’ll keep you listening. "I’m armed with the past / and my will / and a brick // I might not want you back, but I want to kill hi-i-im…" sings Scott Hutchison, in a singularly Scots version of thwarted romance. It’s hard to tell whether the audience rammed into the Hoxton Bar & Grill (as part of the Concrete & Glass mini-festival) are actually picking up on all these one-liners, but for those of us who know the band, there are dozens – a huge cheer goes up for the first lines of 'My Backward Walk', which memorably ends with …you’re the shit / and I’m knee-deep in it._" Not that FR are about spite, or self-pity – they just happen to get that we all act like bairns sometimes, when we could fix our problems, and there’s as much self-mockery here as genuine catharsis.
You may not need a great break-up album in your life right now (and new’un, Midnight Organ Fight (2008), is exactly that), but you can’t ever have enough bands who can rattle out ferociously catchy tunes that just plain rock. Most often, when an arrangement or a chord progression sounds familiar, it sounds like Arcade Fire, but that’s no bad thing, right? The tunes just keep on coming, and so do the twists, the way that drinking-men will pretend to be sentimental, and then '…aaaaah – just kidding!’ – punch you on the arm. One song starts "lift your dress up… / …and show me those shins", combining lechery and a slightly less crass taste in women, while reminding you that you’re North of the Border, making this lust in a cold climate. Like many a great lyricist (Will Oldham, Stephin Merritt, Morrissey) Hutchison knows that emotive lyrics tend to sound cliché unless the silliness is built in: anger doesn’t really resonate unless it’s inventively homicidal, lust needs to be incestuous, despair needs to be suicidal.
The highlight of the set, 'Heads Roll Off', has me yelling along, eyes closed. "Jesus… / is just… / a Spanish boy’s name…" may be the worst joke of the lot but it introduces a soaring rock song (the most Idlewild, or AC Acoustics moment, by the way) that puts God and the Afterlife in drinking-men’s terms and makes the neatest link between Love & Mortality I’ve heard in a long time ("…while I’m alive / I’ll make tiny changes to us // ’til my head rolls off / I’ll make tiny changes for us").
Admittedly, I’m sceptical the gig would have converted many people. To be fair, the PA was muddy, but Will’s range is limited, too. Like Morrissey in his current state of vocal atrophy, or Greg from Afghan Whigs, Will yelps to make sure you get the energy, even if he can’t hit the notes. A three-piece on record, FR are still breaking in their new guitarist, and need to tighten up if they want more punch. Toward the end, when they play slow, they’re trying that classic trick of milking as much tension as possible from a song the fans love; fine, they need a rest, but you can hear them stumble.
Having played their albums non-stop all summer, I loved every minute of this set, but I want the lyrical and musical nuances to be heard by as many people as FR deserve, and right now they’re still some notches shy of greatness, live.
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