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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks – Review

If Midnight Organ Fight documented the broken heart of Scott Hutchinson, The Winter of Mixed Drinks is a tale of how to re-build all of the shattered elements into something resembling a new life.

Where its predecessor brought a lump to the throat, The Winter of Mixed Drinks forces hope in its listener. And coming from a band that is arguably Britain’s best folk-crossover, this album gives the Rabbits a fantastic shot at breaking through into the consciousness of the broad music-buying public.

It makes fewer knee-jerk flits from the ache of the slow ballad to boozy highland jig-tinged ecstasy in response to immediate feelings. This is probably an indication of Selkirk-accented lead singer, Scott Hutchinson’s more evenly-keeled emotional state. In short, he’s nearly over the break up.

But therein could lay the problem. Two years ago, Midnight Organ Fight instantly elicited a catalogue of emotions. It was able to make grown men blub into their beers as Scott’s contorted face blurted out “you’re the shit and I’m knee deep in it” on Backwards Walk, but within a moment paint a broad smile and induce a shuffle of the feet with “Old Fashioned”.

And this begs the question; can Frightened Rabbit match that same level of affected connection in their listeners now that the waves of the break up have subsided? Or will the fact that this is a bigger, tighter, less rough-edged album – more intrinsically important things to a band’s success in themselves – manage to fill that gap?

From Things’ desire to run from the remaining shared possessions that remind of a broken relationship – “pointless artefacts from a mediocre past” – to head spinning-paced next single,  Nothing Like You and the declaration,  “She was not the cure for cancer”, it’s a tale of moving on; musically and mentally.

The main riff on The Loneliness and The Scream is as simplistic but effective as its lyrics. Both build to a crescendo with a helping of football ground ‘Ooooh ooohhs’ which will no doubt frenzy and feed a live audience.

But it is when the Selkirk fivesome produce their wall of Scottish sound that they raise the hairs on the neck. The Wrestle does just this with layers of rhythmic guitars and impassioned, pleading vocals.

Skip The Youth has a vibrating, pulsating quality which runs captivatingly through the track, in a pass-the-parcel type pattern from instrument to instrument and voices to instrument.

Scott Hutchinson’s knack with metaphors and analogies mean the Rabbits’ lyrics delve deeper into each story. First single from the album, Swim Until You Can’t See Land is a notable example, but then any track on the album could be – it’s just that here in particular, the plucked high melody and piano work so as to frame the message of urgency to escape.

Foot Shooter’s apologetic guitar and melody mirror the track’s retelling of the red faced aftermath after a night of arguing with an over acidic tongue that has been heavily fuelled by alcohol.

If anything though, it is Not Miserable that really stamps the fact Frightened Rabbit have managed to run away from the war wounds of a broken heart, awakening positivity and the feeling of anticipation. Soaring violins, ringing vocals and the certain, “I’m not miserable now”, are the confirmation. The placement of Living In Colour as the next track bolsters that celebration.

On The Winter of Mixed Drinks, these five Scots have been stripped of the crutch that an emotional break up gave them in terms of songwriting force. These stories of anguish were, after all, the things that elevated Midnight Organ Fight from a great album into an album of the year.

Fortunately, break ups categorically are not integral to Frightened Rabbit, nor are they integral to the quality of their music. And The Winter of Mixed Drinks is proof that it doesn’t have to be a necessary part of their equation to produce great, emotional albums.

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