Music Reviews
Painting of a Panic Attack

Frightened Rabbit Painting of a Panic Attack

(Atlantic) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

Whether it serves them right or not, Frightened Rabbit are exactly in the place many predicted they would be as they complete their first decade together. The Scottish quintet, led by earnestly snide frontman Scott Hutchinson, have always been at they best when they ratchet up the lyrical intensity, a notable component that has always overshadowed their fairly shambolic anthems. During the span of five albums they’ve seen a steady increase in popularity that’s completely unrelated to their jump into major-label territory after the release of 2013’s Pedestrian Verse, mapping out a meaningful career that’s filled with stories of relatable heartbreak and drunken disillusionment.

Things haven’t gotten any better for Hutchinson. “Wrapped my hand around the glass again/ We all thought that I might change as I got older,” he sings in a state of dejection in I Wish I Was Sober, backed by the kind of chanting chorus that would otherwise imply they’re holding an A.A. meeting for the masses. In the hands of a lesser band this would come across as hackneyed sermonizing, but Hutchinson has lived through this time and time again, imbuing their audience with a believability that can only be achieved through trust. It doesn’t hurt that there’s some purpose to Frightened Rabbit’s surging melodies - Sober resonates with glistening keys and layered atmospheric textures, following a foolproof formula that has been inspiring audiences since The Unforgettable Fire.

Those who’ve been following Frightened Rabbit may be immune to how huge Painting of a Panic Attack sounds, though a quick revisit through past efforts will further reveal a band that was never risk-averse about simplifying their compositions. On the other hand, they’ve never been polite, either - "Nowhere to run,so we hide like mislaid infants/Fuck these faceless houses and everyone who lives in them," Hutchinson sings passionately in Still Want to Be Here, a sentiment that would surely make Chris Martin cover his ears like a child because he’s actually cussing. And yet it soars and soars, crafting a bold array of pounding drums and sweeping ambient soundscapes like there’s no tomorrow. It’s testament to how far they’ve built on a "Coldplay for those who hate Coldplay" sound since The Midnight Organ Flight, an album that was accented with autumnal splendor.

Painting of a Panic Attack is relentlessly dour and downbeat despite its more optimistic variants, which comes as a surprise for a band that has always held high with sprawling conviction. This minor, though greatly significant, adjustment in tone can be credited to producer Aaron Dessner. Better known as the main songwriter of the National, he tends to smear some of Frightened Rabbit’s middlebrow rock with his own band’s weary expansiveness. The quietly wispy An Otherwise Disappointing Life sounds just as tired as its title, expanding upon a dime-a-dozen chorus that does a disservice to its otherwise ornate underpinnings. The instantly forgettable 400 Bones and Lump Street make for one of the blandest, anti-climatic sequences in their entire discography, ultimately sucking up what little edge they previously had.

Which leads to Painting with a Panic Attack’s main flaw - it tempers Frightened Rabbit’s invigorating merriment in an attempt to turn them into an inoffensive, poker-faced troupe. Hutchinson remains a powerful lyricist, still hatching out a series of knockout verses that are impactful when at their most detailed. “If I leave this world in a loaded daze/ I can finally have and eat my cake," he laments in closer Die Like a Rich Boy, feeling too limp to even make an effort to change his irresolute disposition. Hutchinson still feels connected to his inner voice, a poet who’s mastered the art of the relatable sad-sack, though in Painting it takes more of an effort to take his hand and pull him up from the mud.