You had to have seen it coming: Frightened Rabbit, three albums in, have refined their emotional, atmospheric songwriting style into something immeasurably huge, with eyes only for stadiums and perhaps, America.
2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight found critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, giving the Scottish five-piece a golden opportunity that even the most well-grounded bands would find difficult to ignore. It’s now no longer a totally far-fetched thought that Frightened Rabbit are capable of becoming as big as Coldplay or Snow Patrol currently are Stateside. One inclusion on a prime-time show’s famous closing scene and the rest will follow.
This might all make difficult reading for Frightened Rabbit fans who’ve been on side since debut Sing The Greys. But remarkably, The Winter Of Mixed Drinks does nothing in terms of isolating fans of old; songs keep to being dramatic and meaningful and Scott Hutchison’s unique, hot-blooded vocals are present and correct. In theory the group have bigger ambitions and will have a healthier future on the back of this album, but they’re by no means a different band to the one that won so many hearts over the past four years.
But let’s get to those anthems. Foot Shooter is the most goosebumps-inducing of all; a single guitar line, dripping with length and a blissful, ethereal softness, dominates the song. It’s a moving study of mortality, Hutchison declaring “If my face turns white, I am sorry, it’s not your fault, it’s mine” while the emotive sonic landscape keeps to this touching lyric for the entirety of the song.
Lyrics are morbidly haunting throughout, just like they were in the last record. Talk of “shovels”, “graves”, being “paler than a pint box” and “sickness” all amounts to giving The Winter Of Mixed Drinks a sense of being apart from the sappiness of some US-breaking output from south of the border.
Every track on this record has a powerful, hard-hitting meaning that hits the gut in an instant. The concurrent theme is the symbolic idea of departure in new beginnings found in the title and words of Swim Until You Can’t See Land and Skip The Youth. There’s a longing for escape, and it goes hand in hand with the joyful, hair-raising sounds of The Wrestle and Not Miserable, both of which display an emotion that’s still a work in progress for the band: happiness.
This album will, at least in theory, open a new chapter in the band’s story, but the songs – as well as being significantly more streamlined – manage to stir and move like never before. Hearing The Winter Of Mixed Drinks is to hear Frightened Rabbit’s potential for becoming a bigger entity, sensationalising the States and playing arena venues, at least in tow to another band. Perhaps none of these things will come to pass. Even if not, these Scotsmen will still be the band to make grown men sob into pints.