Modesty is a delicate thing in regards to music. A healthy dose of the stuff adds legitimacy and personally identifiable material to an album, while over-doing it dissolves the sound and lyrical message into self-degrading weepy balladry a la Linkin Park that inspires a cringing distance from the discerning audience. It’s a very hard thing to pull off well, but it has been done masterfully. If I am to pay rightful dues one need look no further than say the Cure or early Nirvana whose very career was made off of modesty.
One must rightfully question, would Modest Mouse or Beck ever had a shot at a major record deal (or audience) if it weren’t for the critical outsider success of such predecessors? With that being said, it is also important to note how the pendulum swings equally wide but in the opposite direction. The radio waves are saturated with the cheap lyrics of attention seeking whores who rely more on the amateur pre-teen poetics to scream about doubt, pain and crippling self awareness.
So imagine my trepidation when receiving Frightened Rabbit‘s latest release. Alright, one can sense by the name alone they’re telling us something. Oh! How long its been since I’ve cut the legs out from under a fledgling Dashboard Confessional! And then the title of the record, Pedestrian Verse. Yes! Yes! Yes! They’ve already given me the ammunition I need. I began to doubt I’d even need to listen to the sad bastard blues contained within the 12 tracks of this release more than once or twice before spitting my vitriol.
Enter track one, “Acts of Man” and its dreamy piano line shimmering beneath a falsetto male vocalist who croons, “Not here, heroic acts of man.” And I’m primed, the album effectively relegated to diary entries set to music, I can write it off and move on… but wait! Enter the drums and bass and what was that he just said about an amateur pornographer? Now I’m more confused than anything, but the album’s best work is often the lead track so perhaps “Acts of Man” is a best effort.
Well damn, track two, “Paving Stones” references bodies buried in the backyard. There is some muscle after all. While I’m trying my hardest to hate this album I’ve always held a soft spot for the organ. Its effective rhythmic use contrasted against keyboard miasma and a crunching distorted bass adds dimension worthy of a single.
It is with the third track I realize the lads of Frightened Rabbit aren’t musicians at all. They’re trapeze artists, expertly balancing the weight of the human condition against the excesses of rock n roll while walking a fine no less entertaining wire. “Holy” sounds like what U2 might have been back in ’89 if they’d concentrated more on their music than on conquering the world. Filled with righteous indignation and gratuitous angst the track made me curious to see who would’ve signed such a dynamic group. Shaking my fist at the heavens I curse Geoff Travis (again) when I discover it’s a Rough Trade product.
The album gets better the deeper you go. Complete with crashing anthems and soul stirring confessionals Pedestrian Verse envelopes the best of both humility and flash. From the stadium shaking chorus of “The Woodpile” to the off-kiltered rhythm of “Late March Death March” with its raving lyrics about cursing in church and drunken priests, the blasphemy contained within the denial of God, arsonists, and sleeping away a bad trip it begins to dawn on the audience Frightened Rabbit verses are anything but pedestrian.
MP3: Frightened Rabbit “Holy”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl