Following up an album as critically acclaimed as Midnight Organ Fight was always going to be a tall order, so who can blame Frightened Rabbit for taking their time in doing so. Doubly so given how critics do so love to break down the same darlings that they’ve built up. Now that the new album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is imminent it’s time to see how Scott Hutchison and crew have done.
Right from the off any fears that the band will have changed their sound or approach to appeal to a wider audience can be dismissed, there’s as much here for long term fans as for newcomers. The songs might be a bit grander and a bit less sweary, but the songwriting and craft remains top notch.
Album opener Things is a bit of a low key beginning, and one of the songs that took me longest to warm to, possibly because it sounds pretty much like nothing I’ve heard from Frightened Rabbit. After that it’s straight into first single Swim Until You Can’t See Land. This wasn’t a song that knocked my socks off when released as a single, but as part of the album as a whole it fares a lot better. Ironic then that the opposite applies to second single Nothing Like You. On it’s own it’s frantic, fast paced and catchy. In the context of the album though it feels out of place and less effective. Still a great single, mind you.
Sandwiched between the two singles is my favourite part of the album. The Loneliness and the Scream with it’s handclaps and woah-oh-oh-oh’s has “live favourite” stamped all over it, and is the first moment on the album that made me feel I was listening to something a bit special. It’s followed up immediately by another belter in The Wrestle. Driven by a simple riff, it’s an uplifting little moment that is just, for want of a better word, lovely. Skip The Youth follows and is a mini epic. Building from a lengthy instrumental to a rousing sing along ending, it’s another highlight.
It’s at this point that the album falters a little. As mentioned Nothing Like You feels out of place here, and it’s followed by Man/Bag of Sand – something of a reprise of Swim Until You Can – which doesn’t really do anything for me. It works as an album track, just leaves me cold.
Foot Shooter is another song I’ve not yet warmed to. It feels very anthemic and is very well executed, it just doesn’t really do it for me.
From there on in though the album doesn’t put a foot wrong. Not Miserable is possibly the albums best point lyrically, and sounds the most personal. Living In Colour is already becoming a live favourite and it’s plain why – thumping drums that demand foot stomping, soaring strings, and a killer hook, before fading out with keyboards. Album closer Yes I Would is, again, one that grew on me after a few listens. It might pass you by at first, but after a few listens it’s gentle beauty is impossible to resist. It’s like ending the album with a hug.
The Winter of Mixed Drinks is an album that took me a few listens to really warm to, had I reviewed it after a single listen through I doubt I’d have been anywhere near as positive about it. It’s an album that rewards repeated listens and it is also very much an album, not just a random selection of eleven songs. It isn’t the Midnight Organ Fight II, but then it was never going to be.
Neither is The winter of Mixed Drinks a perfect album, but it’s a very, very good one, and one deserving of pushing the band towards a newer, bigger audience.
The Winter of Mixed Drinks is released by Fat Cat Records on March 1st in the UK and Europe, March 9th in the US.