Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
Record Label: Fat Cat
Release Date: April 15th, 2008
Songs and albums about ‘the one that got away’ are ubiquitous in musical history. Any soul singer worth their salt has recorded a song or two about unrequited love. It forms half the lyrical content of blues music and pop music is dominated with song of love lost and love gained. Sinatra’s iconic album, In The Wee Small Hours, was magnificent concept album about the deterioration of his marriage. Bob Dylan's best album post Blonde on Blonde was an album recorded during the dissolution of his marriage. The Clash’s best song was one about being abandoned by someone you love. The examples are endless.
The topic is so universally found in music, because the feeling of a broken heart is so universal in human nature. Whether it is the breakup of a marriage, the death of a spouse or a 16 year old being dumped by his girlfriend of 3 weeks, everybody can empathise with these numerous songs because everybody has experienced something of that ilk at one point in their life. Essentially this topic has been done ad infinitum and with that caveat firmly in place, what can a bunch of mopey Scots say about a breakup that Bob Dylan can’t say more eloquently?
The answer is clear, by a rejection of eloquence and embracing the colloquialism and harshness of everyday life. Scott Hutchinson is uninterested in symbolism and metaphor and tackles the subject of the end of a relationship unabashedly, with pure naked honesty and often vulgarity. His advice for dealing with a failed relationship is simply to, “kick its cunt in” and his description of his ex is simple, “You’re the shit and I’m knee deep in it.” The album at times can feel shockingly profane, but this is simply part of its charm. It depicts the bitterness and frustration involved with the demise of a relationship. While some artists might address the idea of their ex’s new boyfriend from a distance and might remove themselves directly from the equation, Hutchinson just opens himself up and sings that, “I might not want you back, but I want to kill him”. This line can sum up the record, it’s petty, it’s jealous, it’s childish but it is completely honest and a true reflection of Hutchinson’s state of mind while recording this.
However, despite the many blunt utterances throughout this album, Hutchinson shows he is not above creating a well timed metaphor or allusion. The album’s title is of course a reference to sex, but it shows that sometimes subtly hiding the baser truths leads to a more poetic interpretation of events. A midnight organ fight sounds more visceral and domineering and this reflects the album’s view of sex throughout. Understandably, it isn’t portrayed lovingly; it simply is a way to “get your hole.” Another particularly nice metaphor is found in the bleak and suicidal penultimate track, Floating in the Forth, it asks the listener to “Take your life, give it a shake and gather up all your loose change”. The imagery created here is beautiful and shows Hutchinson’s range and scope as a lyricist.
Of course, honesty is not all that is required to produce a fantastic album or song. A heartbroken 15 year old could produce something honest, yet very rarely produce anything great. Frightened Rabbit have got the knack of producing fantastic pop songs that you’ll be humming in your sleep. Opening track, The Modern Leper is an absolute behemoth of a track, with a beautiful soaring chorus that distracts attention away from the bleak subject matter at hand. The album is heavily layered, with levels of sound being meticulously crafted in the background of songs. It is an album that needs to be listened over and over again in order to hear the small nuances that define it, such as the subtle horns in The Twist or the keys in I Feel Better. The album generally doesn’t employ any bass guitar, which allows the drums to feel pounding and ever present, as they do to superb effect in the album highlight, Keep Yourself Warm. The drummer, Grant Hutchinson is on fine form throughout the album.
The album is a mess of contradictions and conflicting statements that reflect that schizophrenic nature of Hutchinson’s mind. At times he seems to be pleading for his ex to return to him as we hear the wistful Old, Old Fashioned, while at times he seems bitter and vengeful towards her and her new partner as evidenced in Good Arms vs. Bad Arms. We see these conflicts apparent notably between The Twist and Keep Yourself Warm, which could be seen as companion pieces to each other that show different sides of the same coin. In The Twist we hear Hutchinson pleas for closeness and intimacy, “I need human heat”, whereas in Keep Yourself Warm, he seems to have an epiphany and declares that, “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep yourself warm” and that “You won’t find love in a hole”. In essence he is an unreliable narrator despite guiding us through his own personal journey and this is what makes his words so believable and humane as they reflect our own contradictory existence perfectly.
Thanks a lot! This album is one of my favourites, it is the absolute perfect break up album.
Quoted for agreeance. My only beef with this album is that tracks 2-5 don't do much for me. Thankfully, the back half is loaded. "The Modern Leper", "The Twist", "Head Rolls Off", "My Backwards Walk", "Keep Yourself Warm", "Poke"... all absolutely fantastic songs, lyrically and musically.
One fo my favorite albums. And a great beacon for those of us songwriters/lyricists who write with our hearts on our sleeves. It can be done in a way that's raw and genuine without being cloying, cliched or syrupy.