Well this review has been a long time coming and no mistake. In the run up to the release of Frightened Rabbit's third LP, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, I got very hot around the collar and posted all sorts of FR related news; any single or free download was lapped up and devoured with all the fervour of the newly-converted. So it may come as quite a surprise that I didn't review it as soon as the promo copy arrived on my doormat. It seems all the excitement meant that by the time the actual record arrived I had exhausted all my FR enthusiasm; I was well and truly spent.
Now we're several months on, and I've had plenty of time to absorb this record - as I mentioned in my Band of Horses review the other day, my sabbatical from the blogosphere has allowed me to give certain albums a little longer to be assimilated. So what's the verdict? Is the most hotly anticipated LP of 2010 worth the wait? Does it deliver? Yes it bloody does.
It was never going to exceed the greatness of The Midnight Organ Fight, but I knew that before diving into this new record; there was always the hope that it might be even better, and to be honest it didn't seem to surpass it's predecessor on first listen, but there's still hope for it yet. The thing about TMOF was that it amazed from the very first listen; it was one of those rare examples of a record that is instantly accessible but yet still has enough depth to hold ones fascination long after the first flushes of attraction have faded. Even now, nearly two years after I first heard it, it remains one of my all-time favourite records. This new effort from Scott Hutchinson and his ever-increasing band of accomplices doesn't have the same "instant attraction" that TMOF had, but now I've been listening to it pretty steadily for several months I can say with some certainty and conviction that they've hit the bulls-eye again.
It's a much more euphoric experience than other FR records have been; much like Kings of Leon did between Aha Shake Heartbreak and Because of the Times, they've obviously adapted their songwriting to better suit the larger venues their recent success has left them playing. My one complaint with Frightened Rabbit's previous work was that at time they drifted towards the ‘anthemic’ territory so beloved of UK rock acts that have been big hits in the states (will Coldplay and Snow Patrol please stand up?), and that is a criticism that could be leveled at The Winter of Mixed Drinks more than any other of their albums.
In the past the songs were kept on the ground by the dirt and grit of the lyrics, but even that tone has changed for this record. The out-and-out grime has been replaced by a subtler sensibility; one where the lyrical currents run a little deeper, where the emotions aren't quite so heart-on-sleeve as before. All this means that this record represents a step forward for the band; they're not simply resting on their laurels, they're pushing forward and exploring new ground.
So maybe The Winter of Mixed Drinks is not quite as immersive or emotionally charged as their last record, but it's easily the best album of 2010 (so far) by a country mile.