Frightened Rabbit

Liver! Lung! FR!

Rating: 3.0

Label: Fatcat

Live albums are tricky. Since its music that people have ostensibly already heard and then asking them to pay for it again, one has to split the difference between the band and audience; that is, play the songs differently enough to justifying selling them twice but not alter them to where they’re unrecognizable. See Counting Crows’ Across A Wire for how to both succeed and fail spectacularly in this regard. And no, I make no apologies for a Counting Crows reference.

Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit make an attempt with new album Liver! Lung! FR! and are, for the most part, successful. Like 85%-90% successful. Much of that success derives from the strength of lead singer/guitarist Scott Hutchison’s songs. His compositions, as fully fleshed out on studio LP The Midnight Organ Fight are of the Okkervil River/early U2 school: passionate, romantic bursts that alternately invoke folksy melancholy and rock n’ roll bombast. Liver! Lung! FR! is a live, mainly acoustic rendition of the studio album, and the band – brother Grant Hutchison (drums & vocals), Billy Kennedy (guitar/keyboards/bass) and Andy Monaghan (keyboards, guitar, bass) – do a commendable job of re-creating the lush longing of its electric counterpart.

Opener “The Modern Leper” retains its percussive thrust under Hutchison’s Bono-like wail, and The Twilight Sad vocalist James Graham throws down backing vocals on album highlight, “Keep Yourself Warm” (which song’s super-cathartic chorus includes the lyrical diamond, “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep yourself warm“). The tracks are buoyed by organs, percussion and harmonies, layers that thicken until the songs sound ready to either break or burst, or both. Hutchison’s voice is more front-and-center in the acoustic arrangements as well, and his pleading delivery lends the music much of its big-hearted emotion. As an added aesthetic plus – unlike some other Scottish peers – he retains that lovely, fluid, gargled accent when he’s singing.

These are thoroughly relationship songs, and though there are moments that lapse into semi-platitude -the refrain of “I Feel Better” “This is the last song I’ll write about you” seems ground that’s particularly well-trodden – the majority are incisive vignettes of modern love, lust and desire. Hutchison plays on a theme of disease, using it as a metaphor for his own inability to let go of harmful emotions, or the faults of others that they can’t seem to see. He also deploys some gallows humor about the whole endeavor in lines like “You’re not ill and I’m not dead / Doesn’t that make us the perfect pair?” or my personal favorite “You’re the shit and I’m knee deep in it,” preventing the general despondency from becoming downright woe-is-me pathetic.

If anything, L!L!FR! might have benefited from more deviation, since it basically sounds a lot like The Midnight Organ Fight. It uses the same textures to conjure the same emotional power, but a little more up close; where the original versions rise and fall, these follow. I wonder where some of the songs might have gone if the band slowed some tempos, let melodies out to breathe, or attempted some radically different instrumentation (glockenspiel anyone?) But then we’re back debating exactly where the live-album fault line is again. It’s an unfortunate line. Fortunately, Frightened Rabbit is good enough to sound vital in both settings, if not quite experimental.

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