Essay: Frightened Rabbit (A Personal Music Retrospective)
By Mark McConville
I often wanted to steep my head in bleach so my mind could be fumigated. It sounds ludicrous, but the demons in my mind were rummaging around too much for my liking. I know doing so wouldn’t aid me in my pursuit of a brighter outlook, and my head would’ve resembled a red balloon. And trying to retrieve happy memories was impossible, cutting out the despairing ones, equally impractical. So, I wept for days on end, using a hundred tissues.
Feeling sorrow brush against me and whimpering in the mirror for some sort of sign was a daily occurrence. Hiding under the bedsheets in a dusty room gave me a chance to reflect on my faltering life. Choosing to isolate may have triggered a monster in me, a red-eyed tyrant. And I would scratch my arms, scream for solace, and loudly hit the walls with my young fists. By doing so, I knew I wouldn’t start to revolution from my bed, but confrontation.
But there was music, yes music, an art-form that stabilized my existence. Succumbing to a downward spiral wasn’t on the cards anymore, as sound and lyrical prowess saved me from falling into a state of emergency. Music, a saviour, even if it blared out of my room, music a catalyst, even if it played sadness at the highest volume. I knew I wasn’t entirely safe, but as those rhythmic beats roared, I raised my game and quietly departed the room that consumed me.
2008 is a year I will remember fondly. It was the year that one of the most underrated records emerged from the Scottish musical framework. An album of grandiose credibility, but one that fell under the radar somewhat. To many, it was their go-to album, a collection of songs brimming with emotion. The band which released this empowering work was Glasgow band Frightened Rabbit. These guys built it from reflection and experiences, drunken nights spent contemplating and musing over life.
The album, The Midnight Organ Fight, resonated profoundly with me. I played it relentlessly through loudspeakers, dancing to the louder notes and embracing the subtleness. This subtlety marked the record but didn’t taint it. Throughout its brilliance, it also gave me an insight into a frontman's mind. Scott Hutchison was the vocalist who spearheaded his song-writing ability to meteoric heights, instilling lyrics that meant much more. Little notes and anecdotes flurried around the tight instrumentals, making for a hard-hitting but majestic listen.
Emotion, so much emotion. I was an emotional wreck. Drinking myself into oblivion, surrendering to my woes. The Midnight Organ Fight would help me tackle these afflictions. It also helped me find my creative spark, my writing style. It would be the first record in my reviewing pile too. And as a novice music reviewer, I tried to dissect its meaning, its transparency.
As The Midnight Organ Fight played out, my ability to analyse albums with precision improved. I began to see the bigger picture, as albums like this are rare. In the overly bloated music industry, gems are released. Through all the sludge, and missteps, records like The Midnight Organ Fight, prevailed.
And every song on The Midnight Organ Fight intertwined, creating a story line, with Hutchison at the forefront. His ability to transmit his feelings into the minds of listeners was incredible. He would create visions, he’d write monologues and poetry which resonated profoundly. Creating these resounding twists made him a revered singer/songwriter who wore his heart on his sleeve.
Breaking down The Midnight Organ Fight is complex as it’s an intricate album. Many of the songs are incredibly diverse in lyricism and output. Guitars aren’t an afterthought either, with them implementing a needed beat. And every word is accurately put, every stanza, every sentence, polished. Opening song ‘’The Modern Leper’’ strictly sticks with these rules. Lyrically it is a premium start. A soft instrumental presence takes place as Hutchison sings A cripple walks amongst you, all you tired human beings, he's got all the things a cripple has not, two working arms and legs, And vital parts fall from his system and dissolve in Scottish rain, vitally, he doesn't miss them; he's too fucked up to care These lyrics may seem obscure, but they’re clever, and they capture the essence of the record.
Cleverness exudes from The Midnight Organ Fight. Throughout it, it delivers ingenuity. From start to finish, there are moments when it will make you shiver and ponder. It isn’t a one-dimensional listen either, it has relevance and substance, and a wealth of productivity stitched into it.
And at my lowest point, A Midnight Organ Fight proved to be an aid when walking through the streets in the morning, feeling a thumping headache caused by a hangover. These feelings aligned with what the band wanted to pass across, as, throughout the opus, Hutchison sings about drunken nights fighting off his worries. Truly insightful, the album shifted my musical taste too, delivering poignant tales.
During my youth, aspects of my life crumbled. Losing my parents 6 months apart started depressive tendencies. Dreaming of better days only made me feel fatigued and broken. Some days, I wanted bullets to fly through my cranium, to smash my brain, and to end all suffering. The Midnight Organ Fight had the armoury of songs to pull me through, though. ‘’Good Arms Vs Bad Arms’’ was a highlight, a sad assessment of love breaking its rib cage and burning its heart. It’s a track that pinpoints Hutchison’s grievances against a man who had taken his lover. Hutchison sings hurtful words and text that means war I decided this decision some six months ago, so I'll stick to my guns, but from now on its war, I am armed with the past, and the will, and brick, I might not want you back, but I want to kill him.
‘’Good Arms Vs Bad Arms’’ was a song of a magnitude. One that comprised great imagery and melody. It also detailed a man’s battle-hard mentality against a common enemy. This enemy was another breathing human being, a brute, a troubled antagonist, trying to derail a strong bond.
Lyrically, Frightened Rabbit were experts. A band that tells stories through their songs, a fired-up muse, fables conveying struggle. I could relate to them. Furthermore, I could feel every bang from the drums, every strum, every loud moment, and every sombre embrace. I was usually drunk when I could hear all these sounds, on my bed, tacking posted notes to the wall, written in red pen. A display for the disenchanted.
‘’Keep Yourself Warm’’ describes being drunk and out of luck I'm drunk, I'm drunk and you're probably on pills, if we both got the same diseases, It’s irrelevant, girl in the room is the steam, It evaporates, disappears, my point of entry is the same way that I'll leave This sequence of lyrical play, evokes a sense of sadness. And Frightened Rabbit, was a band that ran into obstructions and barriers where they felt lost and secluded.
Truth is, The Midnight Organ Fight was a hard listen. It wasn’t for the optimists. Rather, it was for the disenfranchised, a category I found myself in. Its core was black and blue like a bruise, its undercurrent misjudged. Through time, though, it connected with many hearts, especially after the sudden death of frontman Scott Hutchison in 2018. His suicide shook the music industry and me. Hutchison was troubled and disturbed by anxiety and depression. It’s all heard on Frightened Rabbit’s catalogue.
And ‘’Floating In The Forth’’ explained substantially his thought process at the time. Although the song was released ten years prior, it told us that Hutchison felt suicidal. The lyrics tell us all we need to know, and its heart-breaking And fully clothed, I float away (I'll float away)Down the Forth, into the sea, I'll steer myself, through drunken waves, these manic gulls, scream it's okay, take your life, give it a shake, gather up all your loose change. I think I'll save suicide for another year.
The lyrics were devastating. They were cathartic and troubling, providing us with an insight into Hutchison’s mind-set. To me, they weren’t only words but a cry for help, masked in lyrical verve. And I felt like I lost a brother when Scott Hutchison died. My days of listening to Frightened Rabbit weren’t a waste of time though, as the band will always have a special place in my heart.
Being Scottish and religiously listening to a band that spearheaded the scene in Scotland is a thrill. Frightened Rabbit may have not been the most glamorous act out there, but they were lyricists and musicians of the highest order and a band that modelled themselves on being humble and relevant. They saved me from cascading into the void at such a prominent time in my life, and I’m eternally thankful.
Mark McConville is a freelance music journalist who has written for many online and print publications. His poetry chapbook Lyrics From The Chamber is out now.