Can we talk about earnestness for a moment?
Yes, this is in response to that Stereogum article. Which upon my first reading of it, I felt a little too defensive about Frightened Rabbit. With a second reading, I realized that the whole damn thing was so dumb. If I had to compare Frightened Rabbit to someone else, which I HATE doing (in general, not just with FR), I would never, ever put Mumford and Sons on the list. And not just because I think that FR's music is way more complex than Mumford's (i.e. FR's songs don't all have the same damn structure, and they don't all sound the same) or because Scott Hutchison's lyrics are pretty amazing, whereas Marcus Mumford's are well, let's all face it, they are trite bullshit ("there's no drink or drug I've tried to rid the curse of these lover's eyes?" Jesus Christ. I can see Mumford's rhymes from a mile away) but because they honestly don't sound the same. Sure, FR employs some of the same folk influence as Mumford, but why even put the two bands in conversation with each other? Because they're all a bunch of white dudes from the UK? It's not even fair. Let's stop doing it. And let's also stop acting like all bands want to be Mumford and Sons. Sure, they are the biggest band in the world right now but do you really think a band like oh, I don't know, Calexico, want to be Mumford and Sons? Maybe they want their success, sure, but it's ridiculous to act as though Joey Burns is bemoaning the fact he didn't write a song like "Little Lion Man."
(Side Note: I didn't use FR and Scott Hutchison for this analogy because I think we all know that he does not wish he wrote "Little Lion Man.")
Anywho, the Stereogum article sort of came off as the writer just well, bemoaning the fact that a lot of people like Mumford and Sons, and not enough people know about FR. And yes, it is aggravating. But the article also brought up the idea of earnestness, and what makes FR more earnest than a band like Mumford, or The Lumineers, or The Avett Brothers. Well, for one, those three bands, a long with Edward Sharpe, Ray LaMontagne, etc. present a sort of aesthetic that for me, seems forced. And it seems forced for the simple fact that I came up with a list of five acts off the top of my head that are subscribing to it (and I can certainly come up with a few more). And look at the last American Idol winner; sure, Phillip Phillips has a nice voice, and I do like that song "Home" but there is nothing more manufactured than an American Idol winner. And someone manufactured him into a Mumford and Sons clone. And I can be realistic, and I realize that something like "I Will Wait" or "Ho Hey" or "Home" (I mean that Edward Sharpe song) is a lot easier and more fun to sing along to than say, "Keep Yourself Warm" or "The Woodpile." Those other songs are jauntier, they are bouncy, you can clap your hands and stomp your feet and I'm sure people feel good about themselves after dancing/singing along to it at a concert. Sure, "Old Old Fashioned" and "Swim Until You Can't See Land" and "Holy" are incredibly catchy too, but maybe mainstream audiences don't want to sing along to lyrics that are abrasive, and self-deprecating, and kind of dark and angry. People like fun music (as evident on people's Facebook profiles). And can we all agree that Hutchison's lyrics are far denser than "I belong with you, you belong with me in my sweet heart" or "I will wait, I will wait for you" or "home, let me go home, home is wherever I'm with you?" His lyrics are the best thing about his band, and I am practically insulted that Stereogum is comparing that lyric from "Acts of Man" to that ridiculous one from "Little Lion Man." The bottom line is people like catchy ear worms, not something they have to devote actual attention to in order to fully appreciate.
So, why do so many people think "I really fucked it up this time, didn't I my dear" is disingenuous? I mean, I realize that I never question Hutchison's genuineness. Or his earnestness. Maybe because his lyrics are so honest and self-deprecating and most likely kind of off-putting to people (perhaps we have an answer to why FR isn't bigger than they are) and they never seem forced. Sure, they are a downer sometimes ("I'm dying to tell you that I'm dying," anyone?) but I've always accepted them as genuine. Because you can't force something like "let's pretend I'm attractive and then you won't mind." But what about those Mumford lyrics? Why don't people buy it? Why do they come off as though some child just learned to use swear words (albeit quite poorly)? I don't have the answer to those questions. Perhaps it has to do with that aesthetic I was talking about earlier. If their sound and image come off as forced, then anything they present in their lyrics is going to feel forced too. Or perhaps its their popularity. It's harder to find genuineness and earnestness and something like self-deprecation in music that is enjoyed by the masses. Why even attempt to be genuine when you're making millions? What's the point? People like Mumford's sound, and do you think all of those people filling up arenas to see them give a shit about what they're singing along to? These are the people who made "Gangnam Style" a major, obnoxious, hit. I'm not saying Marcus Mumford isn't trying to be genuine but it's easier to accept he isn't than accept he is.
I guess the point is it's not hard to figure out why Mumford and Sons is popular. Or why there are so many bands trying to capitalize on their success. But we can keep scratching our heads as to why Frightened Rabbit aren't more popular. They just...aren't. But I think we can all agree that there is no reason why something like "The Woodpile" or "Backyard Skulls" couldn't be part of the public consciousness.
Or we all go back to listening to Frightened Rabbit and enjoying them and let everyone else listen to Mumford and Sons. Do you really want FR to become insufferable, annoying twats?
(Also, can we stop talking about The Winter of Mixed Drinks as though it is the worst album to ever be released? Because it's not. Because if you gave it to someone to listen to before he or she ever listened to The Midnight Organ Fight, which is what happened to me, he or she would probably really enjoy it. Even think it was great. On it's own, it's a strong album. Sure, a bit sanitized but "The Loneliness and the Scream," "Things," "Skip the Youth" are all great songs. Maybe the generalities of the lyrics didn't work, and maybe it feels a bit too produced but c'mon. Stop shitting all over it.)