The Midnight Organ Fight.
Those four words will either mean the world to you, or, if not, they will look like four words that barely belong together.
They mean the world to me.
They make up the title of Frightened Rabbit’s second album. A album which, for many people (including myself), is up there with the best things ever committed to record. An album to pull you through the darkest nights. A piece of work that is fraught with anxiety, sprinkled with humour, dabbles in darkness, and offers a place for a wary soul to get its head down.
It is an absolute masterpiece.
The album has, of course, taken on even more significance since the death of its main creator. The late, great Scott Hutchison. I am not going to talk about his death and what he means to me right now; if you want to hear that you can check out episode 16 of the podcast or, for another perspective, hear what his Owl John album means to my fellow picky bastard Lisa Whiteman.
Instead, we’re here to talk about Tiny Changes – a collection of covers that celebrates ten years of The Midnight Organ Fight, collecting together artists that the Frabbit boys have shared their careers and lives with in some way or another. The name Tiny Changes is taken from one of the band’s most famous lyrics, and is also now the name of a young person’s mental health charity the remaining band members have put together to honour Scott’s memory. I urge you to give them your pennies.
So yeah, with all that at stake it felt completely impossible to review this album. So I’m not going to. Instead, I got on the old email with my friend and fellow Frabbit/Picky Bastard Lisa Whiteman to have a good old chinwag about it – here’s how it went:
Fran Slater: So, Lisa, as a fellow Frightened Rabbit fanatic and someone who I know has shared my ups and downs since May last year, I want to take you back to when Tiny Changes was announced. How did you feel? I remember really mixed emotions, in that I was excited to hear the album and really pleased that it would exist and make money for the charity, but I was also kind of terrified. I just couldn’t imagine anyone else singing these songs. Talk me through your initial thoughts…
Lisa Whiteman: Okay Francois. Honestly? I was excited. Because I knew this was a project Scott had been involved in last year and it was how he and the band wanted to celebrate The Midnight Organ Fight. The artists involved are as much fans of this album as you and I, so I imagine they were the scaredyest of all. But yeah, I was excited!
FS: Yeah, I don’t think I was initially fully aware that Scott had been involved as fully as he was, that definitely made a difference. Who were you most excited to see on the list of artists doing a cover? And who surprised you most?
LW: I was probably most excited to see Oxford Collapse on there as the band was defunct… another testament to the album that they’d hug it out to honour that record! I was surprised to see Josh Ritter as his sound is so different.
FS: The Josh Ritter cover (of ‘Old Old Fashioned’) just works, though, right? One of my favourites. I’d never actually heard of Oxford Collapse if I’m being honest, and while there isn’t really a cover on the record that I can’t get on board with at all their’s isn’t my favourite.
Daughter were the one that got me most excited, partly because I bloody love them and also because their sound is just so different to the original. I think they absolutely nailed ‘Poke’, it’s a complete and utter stunner. And I thought it was almost uncoverable (is that a word?).
LW: Oooooh see now Daughter’s is one I like least. Not because I’m precious about the original per se, I just prefer others. Like Craig Finn doing ‘Head Rolls Off’…
FS: Now this is where it gets interesting. I think it’s important to say again that Scott approved all of these songs, and that I can see why people would love each of them, but ‘Head Rolls Off’ is the one I’m still least into. And I think it might partly be because I’m precious about the original if I’m telling the truth – that was my first Frightened Rabbit song and I don’t know if any cover of it would work for me. But Finn’s version did feel flat. Is that your favourite on there?
LW: No it isn’t, but I am rooting for him. He’s taken some grief from Frightened Rabbit fans with one clown even referring to him as “that cunt” because he didn’t like his covers. Un-fucking-necessary.
Scott loved him, he asked him to do it, and he and the band loved what he did. He’s a unique vocalist, probably a bit Marmite, but I agree… we need to remember Scott approved them. And, the added layer of difficulty is the meaning the song has taken on since he passed.
As for a favourite? I can’t pin one down but right now it could be Fiskur. Slinky AF.
FS: A few points I want to address there.
Firstly, that Fiskur cover of ‘Good Arms Vs Bad Arms’ is legitimately amazing. Top three on the album for me, and the most surprising as I barely know the artist and connect so strongly with the original that I couldn’t imagine enjoying a cover.
Secondly, anyone getting aggressive towards any of the artists on this album can fuck off in my book. YOU’RE NOT A TRUE FAN if you’re doing that. The band is about warmth and connection, so if you’re calling some a cunt because you don’t like their cover then I think we know who the cunt is…
Thirdly, I think you raise an interesting point about the meaning ‘Head Rolls Off’ has taken on since we lost Scott. For me, the two covers I can’t personally get into are ‘Head Rolls Off’ and ‘Keep Yourself Warm’. I’ve been thinking that is largely down to me not being a fan of the artists personally, but I’m now wondering if it’s because these songs have become such symbols of Scott over the last year and a bit. I don’t know.
But anyway, it raises an interesting question – how do you think this album would have been responded to if things had been different and Scott was still with us?
LW: Yeah, I’m not all over the KYW cover. Less because of the original but more because The Twilight Sad set a bar with their live version. From performing it in Porto the month after Scott passed, James Graham just exudes the emotion and pain the song represents. It spills from him. I don’t get that with Ben Gibbard’s version.
With the exception of a few, I don’t think the record would have had as good or a prolific reception if things were different. Opinions would have been more extreme and, as basic consumers, many of the fanbase would just be after a new FR record. I think it would have fizzled a bit.
And yeah… Fiskur 😍. Slinky dinky pink frinky!
FS: That seems like an opportune time to talk about Twilight Sad’s ‘Floating in the Forth’. So come on, tell me what you think…
LW: Far and away the most powerful song on the record. The weight of the chords, the sheer punch from James’s vocals… it’s perfect. Next!
FS: Did it bring a tear or ten to the eyes, though? It’s pretty brutal. I was so surprised at how dark they made that song, but how uplifting the repeated refrain at the end becomes.
LW: Honestly? No. I think I’ve cried myself dry between Owl John and Mastersystem. I drilled it in some time ago that this record was a celebration and not for tapfaces. Julien Baker has other plans for my ducts!
FS: Ha. I have to admit that the first time I heard the ‘Poke’ cover my eyes were streaming, while walking by the canal on a really busy day. So that was fun. That one two punch of ‘Poke’ and ‘Floating in the Forth’ left me a bit of a wreck and it was the first time I’d cried about Scott in about a year. Personally, that felt like a good thing though – it was good to remember.
You mention Julien Baker, but we haven’t mentioned the ‘Modern Leper’ covers really yet. Who wins the battle of the covers, Biffy or Baker?
LW: Its a tough one. At first, I didn’t take to the Biffy cover because it’s very Biffy. Buuuuut…. I now love it. Julien Baker has probably one of the most divine voices of our generation, but they’re so different it’s not an easy call.
Julien Baker though. Ahem.
FS: Yeah, they both took a fair amount of time to grow on me as I’m not that into either artist particularly. I love Julien Baker’s voice and loved her in Boygenius, but her solo stuff just creeps over the whiney line for me.
But then she absolutely kills it on ‘How It Gets In’, the duet she did with Scott.
Her ‘Modern Leper’ is one of the absolute standouts on the record for me, only bettered by Daughter, Fiskur, and The Twilight Sad. I feel like Wintersleep also deserve a mention at some point, too – so – WINTERSLEEP.
They’re the new artist I’ve got into through this album, which is another great thing about it. Did you get into anyone new?
LW: Truthfully… probably not but its made me rethink Fiskur and I’ll be revisiting them soon. Don’t hate on me bro but I’m just put off by most stuff The National and Aaron Dessner do, for me it is just irritating and indulgent. (Ed – Aaron covered Who’d You Will Now with Lauren Mayberry).
FS: I mean, The National are the best band in the world right now so I’m just going to skate past that and move on!
Let’s go back to something we agree on. The Midnight Organ Fight has to be one of the best albums ever written, right? And I think, despite my initial fears, that Tiny Changes is a hugely successful tribute to it in the most part.
A difficult last question for you, but can you sum up your feelings for us on the album in a couple of paragraphs or so?
LW: I’m skating past nothing, overrated dross of Radiohead levels of indulgence.
Aaaaanyway, now we’ve established I’m never being invited to Slater Towers for a wine and cheese evening, Tiny Changes: it’s beautiful. It’s a perfect celebration of a wonderful record, thought out and sealed with Scott’s approval. I can’t ever imagine one of my favourite artists asking me personally to cover one of my favourite songs on my favourite record, so credit to each and every artist and contributor, but mostly to the band for picking the project up after their loss.
FS: Well, now that you’ve called both my favourite bands indulgent (while happily admitting to being a fan of both Prince and Madonna!) I will have to draw this little chat to a conclusion.
That said, we clearly share some common ground: because I totally agree
about Tiny Changes. I had so, so many doubts about my ability to enjoy this album but I really, really do! And you’re also right about the artists. It shows a real bravery to pick up these songs and run with them – especially in the case of those who made wholesale changes.
So yeah – great chatting to you about, mate. Maybe I’ll see you here again if we get that unreleased Frabbit material.
Now I’m off to play Radiohead on one stereo and The National on the other.
LW: Bloody hipsters.