Frightened Rabbit - The Winter Of Mixed Drinks

Call us optimistic, but while this is their best effort to date, we feel that they somehow haven’t peaked just yet.

Label: FatCat Records

Rating: 9

“…Most importantly, [our new record] is better than the last one.” So said Frightened Rabbit’s frontman Scott Hutchinson late last year. A comment that was gasp-inducing. We were surprised, certainly. Better than 2008’s ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’?! Surely not? After all, the Scottish quintet’s second album sounds every bit as visceral and thrilling now as it did at the time of its release three years ago, so this was quite a bold statement. No matter how good the lead single was, it was clear that it was going to take some effort to top it.

Nobody could have seen this coming. ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’ is more than just a step up from ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’: it’s a stronger record overall. As its predecessor was a unified whole (an unflinchingly honest breakup record), so too is ‘Mixed Drinks’, though this time around its themes are regret, rebirth, and change. Especially change: ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’ was its working title, the phrase in itself a metaphor for letting go of everything you’re tied to, and then seeing where you end up. The song of the same name is the album’s anchor; it is reprised in ‘Man/Bag of Sand’, and there is a lyrical reference in ‘Yes I Would’. (Instead, the group opted to take their third album’s name from a lyric: ‘I am soaking / I am weathered by the winter of mixed drinks’ (‘Living In Colour’))

Hutchinson has also said that the band ‘have broadened their horizons sonically’, and he’s spot-on. The album opens with the intense ‘Things’, and from its shoegaze-influenced beginnings alone, Hutchinson’s statement rings true. Its delayed guitars are soon joined by the frontman’s voice. Lyrically, he’s in fine form; a key lyric is ‘All you need’s a coffin and your Sunday best to smarten up the end’. The song deals with new beginnings, quite apt when you recall the way this record’s been spoken of.

‘Mixed Drinks’ is coasting by the time the soaring ‘The Loneliness and the Scream’ draws to a close. It’s paired with ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’, and the songs, which are just as anthemic as each other, work exceedingly well side-by-side. ‘The Wrestle’ is driven by Billy Kennedy’s bass work, and is an obvious contender for a single, being one of the most powerful tracks here, which is no mean feat.

Certain songs here find Frightened Rabbit moving into more widescreen territory, the sort of thing that, say, Snow Patrol would produce, only much better. Both bands are good at writing slow-paced anthems, but one of them hasn’t made a proper living out of writing them yet. One of these, ‘Foot Shooter’ can only be described as huge. We can see the band’s profile soaring if this is released as a single, or gets any kind of exposure.

Similarly ‘big’ sounding is the euphoric ‘Living in Colour’. There is a lot of tension within this record, when you get past the hooks, and its penultimate track works perfectly in its position, setting things up for ‘Yes I Would’, a song that boasts despairing lyrics, such as: ‘I wonder if they notice that I’m not around? / The loss of a lonely man never makes much of a sound’.

The juxtaposition of lyrics like this against the melodies helps to add to the album’s poignancy. ‘Nothing Like You’ is a perfect example: it’s furiously fast, yet is seen in quite a different light when you factor in its lyrics, which, among other things, talk of a woman ‘night-nursing a broken man’. While Hutchinson has said that the album’s lyrical content is ‘semi-fictional’, it must be admitted that even with that said, ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’ is quite despondent.

The album’s standout is clearly ‘Skip the Youth’, a contender for the band’s best song to date. A glorious six minutes, its first two are given over to a feedback-soaked passage that builds and then vanishes as the acoustic guitar enters. Unashamedly ambitious, it builds again to a climax of mammoth proportions, before processed drums re-appear and the song clatters to a halt.

The best thing about this record is the way it all comes together. The individual songs on ‘The Winter of Mixed Drinks’ stand up very well indeed on their own, but when placed in album context their effect is extraordinary. The only question that remains is, where the hell can Frightened Rabbit go from here? Call us optimistic, but while this is their best effort to date, a sensational listen, we feel that they somehow haven’t peaked just yet.