Sing the Greys
ere’s a man who deserves a raise: whoever it is at Fat Cat that’s been panning for gold in Glasgow and found two chunky nuggets among all the silt and stones. The Twilight Sad have obvious appeal: their blaring guitars and fervent vocals combine into a howling storm on plastic and a hurricane of a live show. New labelmates Frightened Rabbit, on the other hand, aren’t so interesting from the outset, and lack much of what we usually look for in determining what makes one band better than any other. Listening here for “musical innovation,” “visceral thrills,” “profound truths,” or “authentic emotion” is a largely unproductive exercise. Frightened Rabbit are rescued, in the end, by that difficult-to-define quality of “good songwriting,” and an unpretentious style that renders that high-minded search misguided.
Sing the Greys doesn’t pull up any trees, but it is a highly satisfying example of monochromed indie-pop as imagined by normal, balanced people. Most pleasing is the couplet of “Yawn” and lead single “Be Less Rude,” which moves from an astutely-observed lament about boredom in a long-term relationship to a bouncy, harmonica-tinged plea for courtesy. “Music Now” starts with various criticisms of the music industry, before building into an anthem affirming the joy of making music, and penultimate track “Snake” is a love story to a penis that’s executed with suitably ridiculous style. There are three very short tracks that could be described as experimental, in that each of these “incidents” lacks structure or vocals, and each hint at ideas that could be developed in the future. (Also, this American re-release is bookended by a studio and a live version of the title track, which is reminiscent of the Wedding Present at their most vigorous.)
Sing the Greys is “monochromed” for more reasons than just punning the title. Without a bass guitar to round off the sound, and with the sparing use of keys and accordion, the voice/guitar/drum sound only covers a thin band of the musical spectrum. And the problem with music by “normal” people, is that there’s nothing quite so colorful as raw, heart-felt emotion when Frightened Rabbit sing the greys. Hutchinson confesses as much on that title-track, when he sings: “What’s the blues when you’ve got the greys? I don’t have much of a story to say.” He hasn’t been raised in a brothel, a jungle, or sold his soul to the devil, or dealt crack from the age of eight. Neither have the Twilight Sad, but they still manage to live purely on the passion of their emotional message. Frightened Rabbit aren’t quite so good at that: when they go for the emotional, through Hutchinson’s pained wailings on “The First Incident” and the climax of “Square 9,” for example, it’s not accompanied by the intelligent arrangements that are needed to carry that off with conviction. Maybe he’s stubbed his toe, or perhaps he’s courting a cat, or he could be anguished about a relationship; it’s not certain.
But even that criticism can be tempered: “The First Incident” is less than two minutes long, and there’s an endearing eagerness about the first four minutes of “Square 9,” before it stretches too far into that overwrought finale. When Hutchinson sings “You should peel those ears, ‘cos it’s important that they hear my hopeful words,” it’s not a misplaced boast, and the A&R; man at Fat Cat believed so too. Moreover, peel those ears for the next group he signs from Scotland: with the keenest ears this side of the pond, it doesn’t take a psychic to predict that his next band could be your life.
Reviewed by: Ally Brown
Reviewed on: 2007-10-11