It’s easy to tear into an indie rock band for even remotely “U2-ing it up”, and “Acts of Man,” the first track off of Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse, certainly does that Dublin foursome proud. Scott Hutchison’s voice reaches Bono levels of sycophantic emotiveness, while his brother Grant lays in thick on a “With Or Without You” sounding drum part. I should be easy, then, to call “Acts of Man” ridiculous, or overbearing, or silly. But it’s not; the song’s actually pretty great.
With Pedestrian Verse, Hutchison and co. have crafted their most wackily overwrought album yet, but also one of their most intensely listenable. Verse could be seen as Frightened Rabbit’s plunge into stadium rock, and with the bigger sound comes some bigger lyrical ideas. Hutchison is no longer hiding behind a tumbler of scotch, crooning passively about his (mostly self-inflicted) emotional wounds. He’s in your face and ready to talk about real things, like the plight of the working class, and social drudgery; about the other as opposed to the self. About the world we share and not just the one Hutchison hides in. It becomes ridiculous to think that this band was named after its lead singer’s chronic shyness, because on Pedestrian Verse he comes across as almost boisterous.
Hutchison’s brogue is thick and hearty; the feeling you get when you listen to him is perhaps best compared to the fullness you feel after eating a very chunky stew. It often sounds like he’s choking on phlegm and spraying unmeasurable amounts of spittle, the result being a spectacularly emotive vocal performance. Hutchison’s voice and his thickly descriptive lyrics are the main attraction, but they are sturdily supported by an ensemble of tom beats, REM-esque guitars, and some fairly proggy synth work (especially on album highlight “Backyard Skulls”).
But despite all the fun (and humor) of its megalomaniacal posturing, there is something far too pedestrian about Pedestrian Verse; at least if it ever hoped to contend seriously with more subversive guitar rock offerings. It’s almost like the only way Frightened Rabbit could adopt a heartier, more direct sound was for them to proportionally marginalize their songwriting until it became the epitome of the bland descriptor that is “indie rock.”
The trepidation inherent to the songwriting and a weak second half prevent Pedestrian Verse from truly wowing. But dear, gentle reader, before you dismiss Pedestrian Verse entirely please consider the following: you’re drinking lukewarm beer at a pub with a couple of friends on a cold, wet Wednesday night; you see some frat bro idling by the jukebox; oh no, you think, I’d better get over there. Too late: he just put twenty dollars in. That’s a lot of songs, you’re thinking, what’s he going to put on? I can’t stay here if I have to listen to the Dropkick Murphys. The best you can hope for, dear reader, is that he’ll play something like Pedestrian Verse; this is pub rock at its most engaging.
Call it a drinking album, call it the background album to a drunken weekend with your friends from high school. Pedestrian Verse might be anything other than a sit down, shut up, and listen album. Pedestrian Verse isn’t supposed to be studied; Pedestrian Verse is supposed to accompany you as you ride your bike, as you drink a beer, as you shop for groceries. And when you look at it this way? Pedestrian Verse is the perfect alternative to some of clean cut indie rock’s snoozier offerings.