Album Review: The Winter Of Mixed Drinks by Frightened Rabbit
Very Good, Based on 13 Critics
Drowned In Sound - 80 Based on rating 8/10
In the eyes of this website, Frightened Rabbit left themselves scarce room for improvement with The Midnight Organ Fight. Literally, there was only one album better than it in DiS’ Albums of 2008 chart. Which leaves The Winter Of Mixed Drinks in a tricky position – either it turns out to be the best album of the year, or surely it’s failed? The bad news first.
FR are now masters of the intimate emotional portrait writ large Hopefully by now people will have stopped writing FR off as twee indie miserablists; their name gives no indication of the heart-swelling delights contained within. The way ‘The Loneliness & The Scream’ turns bitter abandonment into a defiant cry of empowerment and ‘Nothing Like You’’s brutal realism (“She was not a cure for cancer…”) proves that rather than wallowing in self-indulgent sorrow, FR are now masters of the intimate emotional portrait writ large. To some it will seem cloying and trite, but persevere: underneath Scott Hutchison’s warm burr lie a clutch of songs that deserve to be held close and tight.
From Phil Spector to Arcade Fire, pop has often found much success in strapping a set of songs to a wind tunnel of sound, and the third Frightened Rabbit album repeats the trick again. On the uplifting Swim Until You Can't See Land, Scott Hutchinson's cry of "All I am is a body adrift in water, salt and sky" sounds like someone finding epiphany in waves of sound. It helps that the songwriting is sharp throughout, and most of their songs – with themes of escape, freedom and reinvention – have huge impassioned choruses that are made to be shouted from the nearest available mountain.
The name Frightened Rabbit is a bit of a misnomer. Although it invokes a sort of barely plucked, barely sung, barely-there shush-folk project along the lines of Iron & Wine or Bon Iver, the Scottish quintet have spent their entire careers summoning some of the most heartwrenching and truly epic power ballads in the self-conscious realm of indie rock, having more in common with, say, Coldplay than Pavement. Their latest effort is no different: The Winter of Mixed Drinks is, in a lot of ways, the band’s weightiest record yet, which is saying quite a bit considering that 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight packed a significant and surprisingly long-lasting punch.
With each release, Frightened Rabbit’s music grows by leaps and bounds: they offered humble, moody folk-pop on Sing the Greys, which they expanded into searching rock on Midnight Organ Fight. On The Winter of Mixed Drinks, they focus and polish Organ Fight’s epics -- and add a healthy dose of optimism. Though they’ve always been concerned with heavy issues like life, death, freedom, devotion, and spirituality, this time the bandmembers don’t seem beaten down by their struggles with them.
Scottsmen stretch their legs on ambitious third album “What’s the blues when you’ve got the greys?” asked Scott Hutchison on Frightened Rabbit’s charming 2006 debut, Sing the Greys. The Scottish band—formed around Scott and his brother Grant—put a scrappy spin on apathy and cynicism. They were raucous, but with great economy: Scott’s fuzzy guitar jittered and popped like oil in a pan as Grant bashed out frantic rhythms, hammering beats like nails into the music’s woody grain.
What a red herring “The Greys” turned out to be. The first track on Frightened Rabbit’s debut album back in 2006 was all angular guitars and tense energy. It may have set up the tight but disconnected album that followed, but it gave us no indication of where this great Scottish band was going. Their second disc The Midnight Organ Fight melted down the icy edges of its predecessor into a slick puddle, a more wide-open pop sound that worked all the way through.
Though it has only been two years since Frightened Rabbit released their breakout sophomore album, Midnight Organ Fight, a lot has changed. The Scottish group began as a trio featuring brothers Scott and Grant Hutchison and their friend Billy Kennedy, but they blossomed into a quartet during their last tour and are now a five-piece with the addition of Make Model's Gordon Skene. The band's sound has also expanded.
Everybody -- the lonely lover, the struggling artist, the dumped, the victorious warrior, the moderately successful but aging indie rocker -- needs an anthem. On The Winter of Mixed Drinks, Frightened Rabbit's third LP, the band stuffs an album full of anthems to introspection, confronting issues of spirituality, success, and aging. The band has grown to a quintet since the release of The Midnight Organ Fight, and so has the band's sound grown.
There is no big reason, no giant flaw to blame for The Winter of Mixed Drinks's failure to resonate as strongly as Frightened Rabbit's sophomore album does. There are, however, a few small reasons one could point to. A contributing factor could be the band's recent additions, members wise. Between second and third records, the band gained two new members and with them access to a bunch of new instruments to throw into the mix.
No longer in the relationship-breakup doldrums, Scotland's Frightened Rabbits offer up a confident third album that features strong lyrics and one arena anthem after another, starting with the bubbling life musings of Things. [rssbreak] This bright-side-of-life approach is overly grandiose, alas, and doesn't build on the maudlin mastery of their sophomore, Midnight Organ Fight. Gone, too, are the simple folk elements of Rabbit's sound, replaced by additional keys and echoes (which makes sense considering the band keeps adding members).
Rebounding from the emotional morass of their last album, Frightened Rabbit have emerged defiant, but more than a little muddled. The sense of confusion is palpable; as its title connotes, The Winter Of Mixed Drinks inhabits the confused thematic middle ground between abuse and recovery. Lacking the spleen and bilious knack they displayed on The Midnight Organ Fight, Frightened Rabbit have failed to imbue Winter with as intense a personal charge.
The band’s scruffy-hearted charm still lies just below the surface. Laura Barton 2010 It’s been three years since Frightened Rabbit released their last record, The Midnight Organ Fight, a startling, brittle and quite brilliant break-up record that bared the rather bruised soul of the band’s principal boy Scott Hutchison. It was at times a painful, funny, heart-lurching record that, as it drew to a close, seemed to promise sweeter times to come.