Today we continue our occasional series of guest posts by thi wurd team and beyond. Duncan Hotchkiss chooses ten Frightened Rabbit songs.
Square 10: A Frightened Rabbit Song List – Duncan Hotchkiss
This isn’t a top ten list. I don’t think that’s fitting with the body of work we’re talking about here. Everyone will have their own favourites too. Instead, here’s an illustrative selection of the depth and range of the Frightened Rabbit archive.
1. ‘Head Rolls Off’
With maybe one of the most memorable opening lines in the FR back catalogue, the song is an exploration of purpose in life, the meaning of death, and religiosity in a secular age – littered with macabre humour. So much of Scott’s work was funny. Profound, sad and hopeful; but also funny.
What makes ‘Head Rolls Off’ so powerful is its enduring voice: ‘I’ll make tiny changes to earth’. FR were never really a music video type band but the video for this aligns nicely with the song: early years primary school kids running about daft as Scott, Grant and Billy play the song in the classroom. That symbolism of children as standard bearers of hope is carried forward in the charity founded by Scott’s family, Tiny Changes, who provide support for the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.
2. ‘Acts of Man’
The opening track of 2013’s Pedestrian Verse is about masculinity, insecurities, and being a man today. Sounds thicken as the song progresses, starting with piano chords, joined then by guitars and percussion, and further again by the driving trill of Billy’s bass. A live version on KEXP continues that crescendo, where the song goes, well, fucking mental for a couple of minutes at the end. A throwback to what listeners get a glimpse of in the live version of ‘The Greys’ (see below).
The song’s musical crescendo is reflected in the growing confidence of its lyrical exploration of manhood as it progresses. As it does so, listeners are challenged to embrace insecurities, to celebrate them: ‘I’m here, not heroic but I try’.
3. ‘The Greys (Live)’
The bonus track on the debut record, Sing the Greys (2006), is notable for its frenetic energy. In it, you get an idea of those early FR shows. I even recall one reviewer likening it to punk. That’s maybe a stretch but nevertheless this recording of ‘The Greys’ does away with any suggestion of FR as indie plodders. Fast, loud, sweaty, with a wild edge to the vocals, to the guitars, to Grant’s drumming. As well as that, lyrically Scott offers an honest, unglamorous, appraisal of low mood and depression, ‘I woke up this afternoon thought maybe today / That the world might be a more colourful place / But there’s no luck, it’s still just grey.’
4. ‘I Wish I Was Sober’
The production value on 2016’s Painting of a Panic Attack is very different to earlier records. FR’s sound adapted and changed over the years, though some of the themes had a sense of continuity. Here, it’s alcoholism: ‘my love you should know / the best of me left hours ago’. Explorations of alcoholism aren’t uncommon in Scottish culture, but what’s rare here is the storyteller’s honest confrontation with their own relationship to alcohol. A great song but like so much of FR’s work, it’s a hard listen with hindsight.
5. ‘The Work’
Recorded in collaboration with Scottish folk singer and songwriter Archie Fisher, ‘The Work’ is from A Frightened Rabbit EP (2011). It’s a rumination on the meaning we derive from our pursuits in life, and how we adapt to the change of getting older and getting old. The song’s philosophy is quite simple: ‘the search for answers is an idiot’s task’. These are the moments where Scott’s wisdom shines through. It’s a beautiful, understated song, worth savouring.
6. ‘Fuck This Place’
This is a bit of a hidden gem in the Frabbit archives, and another from their 2011 EP. A song about placeless-ness, transience, and not fitting in. Featuring vocals from Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell, which satisfyingly dovetail with Scott’s.
7. ‘Keep Yourself Warm’
A much-loved classic, best realised in a room full of hundreds of other folk singing in unison: ‘it takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.’ There’s that wisdom – and that humour – again. If Frabbit were a football team this would be their terrace chant.
8. ‘The Woodpile’
Another of Scott’s pieces on the nature of being a frightened rabbit. A subtle verse and rallying chorus, the simple effectiveness of the song goes some way to explaining why FR did the thing that no one really talks about as a ‘thing’ anymore: they broke America. Also a great illustration of Scott’s characteristic drop D acoustic guitar work.
9. ‘The Modern Leper’
The opening track of The Midnight Organ Fight, instantly recognisable from its opening bars. Scott’s solo performance of the song at the 2013 End of the Road Festival, for The Line of Best Fit, is available on YouTube and captures his warmth, humour, and unique ability to connect with audiences. Give it a watch.
10. ‘Music Now’
Another early one, from their debut record. It became a rare song to hear live. A critical depiction of trying to break into the music industry: ‘so love me London love me / or don’t love me, I don’t mind’, what matters is making ‘music that somecunt might like’. It’s fair to say they achieved that.
Duncan Hotchkiss is a contributor to thi wurd Magazine, Issue 4 where he writes on Frightened Rabbit’s album The Midnight Organ Fight.