Just before noon on Sunday 27th June 2010, exceptionally hungover and thoroughly miserable, a friend enticed me down the hill at Worthy Farm, Glastonbury to see a new band he liked on the promise of an ice cream.
In the end I got much more than an ice cream. I also got my first taste of a love affair that would last close to 10 years and shows no sign of abating. One that would stay with me through more relationships, house moves, university and post-graduation courses, births, bereavements and celebrations than I care to mention.
It is difficult to overstate how much Frightened Rabbit mean to me. The gig at Manchester Ritz for the 10th anniversary of The Midnight Organ Fight was one of the best live performances I have ever seen. It was described by the band as “one of the best gigs we’ve ever played”. That gig was on the 15th March 2018; there were two shows left of the anniversary tour. By 10th May 2018, less than two months later, Frightened Rabbit lead-singer and chief songwriter Scott Hutchison was confirmed dead.
I include this preamble not as a way of gatekeeping a band or out of mawkish nostalgia, but because my experience is so similar to thousands of other Frightened Rabbit fans. They are not a band that people take lightly. If you’re in, you’re all in.
So, when it was announced that Frabbits would be releasing an album consisting of covers of The Midnight Organ Fight, it prompted some scepticism. Would these versions match up to the originals? Could they be better? Was that even really the point?
The answer to that last question is a firm no. That isn’t the point, the point is supposed to be a celebration of the band’s breakthrough album. The album, not the man who wrote it. The issue is that, when listening to anything related to Frightened Rabbit recently, Scott’s death is unavoidable – he looms over every re-listen like a spectre – a fact that Scott’s brother Grant has acknowledged. He was recently quoted as saying that revisiting old songs was “really, really hard” and that the album could “never purely be a celebration, even though it was supposed to be”. It is important to remember, though, that the album was completely finished before last May and that all members of the band heard, approved and presumably enjoyed the covers recorded.
So, what of the covers? Do they paint a fitting, if unwitting, tribute? The good news is that, yes, most of them do. A minority are a little wide of the mark but given The Midnight Organ Fight is an album of such intensely personal songs, it seems permissible Tiny Changes flirts between charming reincarnations and ghostly pale imitations. After all, nobody and nothing is perfect.
The beauty of Frightened Rabbit’s output is the level of emotion that runs through it and little of that is lost here. In some cases, such as Wintersleep’s cover of Twist, that emotion is drastically changed by one small alteration (the simplest change of inflection in the chorus turns it from a lonely curmudgeonly eulogy to an optimistic, joyous sermon). Whereas Julien Baker’s version of The Modern Leper is nothing short of haunting. Others are closer to the originals, and no worse for it.
What is so joyous and timely about this album is that it ties in seamlessly with the rhetoric that so many people have espoused following Hutchison’s suicide; talk to your friends, know that people care about you, make tiny changes to earth. If an album of covers by the band’s friends, colleagues and collaborators doesn’t meet that criteria, I don’t know what does.
And so, whilst it was never intended to be, Tiny Changes is reluctantly a tribute album. It is also, as was intended, a celebration of a record, a band and a man who have had a more profound effect on their fan base than they could ever have anticipated or appreciated.