Longtime Agit readers will know that we fell in love with Frightened Rabbit via the Scottish band’s second album, 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight. Our interview with singer Scott Hutchinson was one of our very first features, and so we were more than a little gutted to hear of his death last year. While there had long been a healthy dose of melancholy in his lyrics, his suicide still came as a shock to say the least.
In celebration of The Midnight Organ Fight’s 10th anniversary, the band enlisted a group of friends to reinterpret the album’s 14 songs. The project began before Hutchinson’s passing (he approved all the songs on the record), but of course now it bears much more gravitas. Named Tiny Changes (Canvasback Music/Atlantic Records), the album will benefit an organization of the same name that helps young people dealing with mental health issues.
I once called TMOF “a winning combination of cathartic hootenanny, Updikian tropes, and an Arab Strap–like sense of despondency.” As with much of Frightened Rabbit’s music, for all the despair the album charts, Scott seemed to always see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is perhaps why his suicide was so surprising. On “I Feel Better,” he even sang, “I’ll stow away my greys… I feel better and better and worse and then better.” As such, it’s hard not to hear TMOF—and thusTiny Changes—in relation to the tragedy of Scott’s passing.
On Tiny Changes, “I Feel Better” is tackled by Oxford Collapse, who came out of retirement to record the song. That the band regrouped after nearly 10 years apart exemplifies the personal nature of this album; every artist here has some direct connection to the band, and Frightened Rabbit members played on a couple of tracks (Fiskur’s “Good Arms vs Bad Arms” and Piano Bar’s version of “The Twist”). As a result, it’s a little bit of a disparate collection and the record lacks the cohesiveness of the original album or what may have resulted had it been produced by an entirely Glaswegian line-up. That said, it is also obvious that each song was a labor of love, and the record benefits for it.
There are fairly straight renditions of TMOF highlights like “Keep Yourself Warm” (Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard) and “Head Rolls Off” (The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn), but it’s the songs that are more dramatically reworked that stand out. The most leftfield contribution comes from the duo of Kate Harkin and comedian Sarah Silverman who do a charming, electronic-tinged take on “My Backwards Walk.” Former FR soundman Jeff Zeigler’s reworking of “Extrasupervery” is similarly dissimilar from the original, stretching the once minute-long song to almost three times its length.
Of course, due to its obvious prescience, the most difficult track to now hear is “Floating in the Forth.” Here, Hutchinson sang, “And fully clothed, I float away… down the Forth, into the sea. I think I’ll save suicide for another day,” seemingly foreshadowing his body being found near the Forth Road Bridge. On Tiny Changes, this song and its emotional weight is handled expertly by friends and fellow Scotsmen The Twilight Sad, who turn it into a blustery mix of frayed guitars and layered vocals. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the record’s most poignant and powerful moments and will leave you with a lump in your throat, if not a tear in your eye.
Apparently, the band had more willing contributors than the album has songs as there are additional takes on “The Modern Leper,” “The Twist” and “My Backwards Walk” tacked on the end, and like the rest of the record, they are rendered with obvious care. One can’t help but wish that Scott was still around to create more music, but Tiny Changes is a fitting tribute to the legacy he left behind.