In the beginning Frightened Rabbit gave off all the signs of a band who didn’t really know what they were doing.
Frontman and lead songwriter Scott Hutchison didn’t even seem to want to be a musician, having studied four years at Glasgow School of Art. Debut album ‘Sing The Greys’ was initially a collection of demos, sold at gigs before intrigue from Fat Cat Records pushed the band to perhaps take the recordings a little more seriously.
‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ is the point where these aspects fused into something unique, where the tectonic pressures of heartbreak sparked a series of jewels so precious that their luster has yet to dim, more than a decade on.
Released in 2008, 'The Midnight Organ Fight' deals explicitly with heartache, rejection, a longing for the past, and substance abuse; in this sense, it's one of the most Scottish albums ever created. It’s a record so inebriated, so utterly sloshed that if you smashed it on the floor a 15 year old single malt would trickle out; it’s a record dominated by shagging, by the pleasures of the flesh and just how far you can fall.
At its core, though, it’s a highly moral experience. As Scott Hutchison recently noted in The Skinny, the view of many fans that this is a break up record is well founded – only, it was actually him that ended the relationship.
“This is not an album written by a person who was dumped,” he wrote. “It’s an album about a person who left a relationship and regretted the shit out of that decision.”
“I thought it was time to correct the popular notion, because even though I was very, very sad... it was my fucking fault.”
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'The Midnight Organ Fight' isn't a heartbreak album in the traditional sense; the end of the relationship burns throughout, but the pain is granted through Scott's own actions, his regrets sparked by his own actions. It’s here that the crux of the album can be found, a nexus of blame, punishment, and – eventually – growth that fuels some of the band’s finest work.
Despite the protestations of ‘Heads Roll Off’ – “Jesus is just a Spanish boy’s name / How come one man got so much fame?” - Scott's conception of sin remains obliquely Christian, in that curiously self-punishing Church Of Scotland manner; he believes in the necessity of punishment, the wearing of the cross, but also that suffering may bring about redemption, that knowledge through pain has a beatific edge.
Everywhere a form of lapsed puritanism peers through the cracks, a rigid Protestant dogma that lingers like faded adverts on the gable ends of old tenements. Like Baudelaire he relishes the pleasures of the flesh, but still builds his concept of sin on Christian terms. He is forever conflicted between the urge towards self-destruction and a lingering desperate need for self-preservation. It’s the pain that passeth understanding.
The album title itself is a reference to the sexual act, while ‘Fast Blood’ and ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ are dominated by matters of the night, by lust, regret, and cold encounters. It's a highly unscientific observation but one worth making regardless - taking a straw poll of Frightened Rabbit fans in my life reveals a large proportion to be female.
'The Midnight Organ Fight' is a record that refuses to extinguish female sexuality, indeed it accepts it on the same terms as male desires - naturally, occasionally misguided, but ever present. Just look at the inebriated lovers in ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ or the equivalency of attraction on ‘The Twist’ (“I need company, I need human heat / You need company, you need human heat…”).
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It's interesting to contrast this treatment with the rise of commercial emo that emanated from the same era. There, women are seen a vessels for male insecurity, jezebels who taunt and mislead; here, it's the narrator who accepts he has misled himself, who refuses – or is unable – to sidestep his flaws, saying simply: “I hate when I feel like this / And I never hated you”.
A highly musical experience, ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ is littered with references to noise and sound, from the couple waltzing to the radio in ‘Old Old Fashioned’ or the “progressive dance” in ‘Poke’. A Highland dancing tradition, the progressive dance allows you to move around the room, finding new partners each time, no doubt with “shin-splints and a stitch”.
The night, though, must always end, and in ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ photographs are always faded, and drunken revelry is subsumed by hungover regret. That’s where the album’s key message abides, though; it’s a record about overcoming pain, about beginning to re-assert personal agency, and accept that choices – even the wrong ones – must be made.
An album that follows the five stages of grief almost ruthlessly, Frightened Rabbit are at their most potent when channeling acceptance. Even at its angriest, most impassioned, elements of acceptance bleed through the idle rage, reaching a natural, unforced conclusion on ‘Floating In The Forth’, the album’s last (true) song.
A rejection of suicide, it finishes the album’s journey by steering into open waters, Rimbaud's 'Drunken Boat' pinned by Scottish geography, moving past the Forth Road Bridge to “drunken waves” and “manic gulls”. There’s a sense of peace, though, a pensive grasp of new possibilities, one that the band have never surrendered.
It’s still curious to re-visit ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ a decade on. Taking breaks from rehearsals surrounding their anniversary shows the band poked fun at themselves on social media, pointing out bum notes, mistakes, and immaturities. But it’s simply One Of Those Records for a great many people, a song cycle of rejection, mistakes, lust, regret, and finally transcendence that has left a lasting impact on so many lives.
Perhaps – after all that pain, and all that turbulence – it was actually worth it.
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Frightened Rabbit will play 'The Midnight Organ Fight' in full at London's Kentish Town Forum tonight (March 16th).
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