There’s always a slightly terrifying moment just before you listen to a new release from a much loved band. There’s the worry that it mightn’t be as good as the back catalogue you’ve wept/danced/sung-along to, and also the paradox of wanting it to be different to the songs you love, but not too different. Needless to say when my favourite band, Frightened Rabbit, brought out a new EP late last year, I feared the worst. How could they possibly one-up the ethereal, chest-thumping goodness of their previous album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks? The short answer is they haven’t. State Hospital doesn’t leave their previous releases for dust or seem to herald global domination. But it is by no means a lesser piece of Frightened Rabbit’s repertoire, and it is certainly worthy of the play time their earlier releases warranted.
From the haunting opener ‘State Hospital,’ with singer Scott Hutchison’s signature morbid romanticism writ with a thick Scottish drawl, to the spoken word refrain of the EP’s final song – and what-am-I-listening-to moment – ‘Wedding Gloves,’ it is clear that the band know what they’re doing and are doing a damn fine job of it. It’s not brimming with the orchestral arcs of The Winter of Mixed Drinks, nor is it as raw as previous releases Sing the Greys and The Midnight Organ Fight. But it is distinctly Frightened Rabbit, thematically and musically – in the physicality of its lyrics and the foot stomping, spirit-lifting refrain of tracks such as ‘Boxing Night.’
Being an EP, State Hospital only provides a glimpse of the direction in which Frightened Rabbit are headed. With a new album due for release in February, we won’t have to wait long to see if they make good on the promise that State Hospital suggests. At this stage I’m not inclined to fret because, if nothing else, State Hospital is likely to provide many an addition to my year’s ‘most played’ list.