by Craig Howieson
The final act of a play of biblical proportions, Painting Of A Panic Attack found Frightened Rabbit teetering on the perfect version of themselves, as Scott Hutchison proved that real bravery is found in sharing our vulnerabilities
In 2015, Frightened Rabbit – following a series of at times fraught internal trans-Atlantic writing sessions – met with Aaron Dessner to record what would become thief fifth and final record, Painting Of A Panic Attack. With frontman, Scott Hutchison, in LA and dealing with the isolation and alienation of being a stranger in a new town with only the relationship with his partner to cling to, and the rest of the group back in Glasgow, the record’s creation was an adjustment for the band. But as devout fans of The National and Dessner’s production work, as well as being former touring buddies, the chance to record with Dessner was a fulfilment of a long-held dream.
Dessner’s influence is knowingly understated, yet, immediate, and was something latched on to by critics at the time. However, while he tempered the sprawl of the band’s previous opus, Pedestrian Verse, and sanded smooth the scratchy rawness of their breakthrough, The Midnight Organ Fight – which many fans still believe to be the perfect accompaniment to Scott Hutchison’s soul bared lyrics – you cannot help but think that Painting Of A Panic Attack is the closest the group ever got to the version of themselves that they heard in their heads.
The songs present themselves as having been planted and nurtured like clustered flower beds that bloom into a meadow you can wade through knee-deep; a new experience to greet you at every passing glance. The womp womp of horns on Little Drum, the unsettling ambience of Death Dream, and even the pop-rock flashes of Break – perhaps a nod to the joyful cacophony of friends, Oxford Collapse – were all new avenues that showed the band’s desire for change. But not unlike The National, their progression was incremental – adding extensions to their house instead of selling up and starting over elsewhere. This evolution is encapsulated on the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Lump Street, which looms with a dystopian dread for its first half before exploding in a cloudburst of guitars that transports listeners back to winters of mixed drinks.
Despite the scrutiny it was subjected to, the deftness of Dessner’s touch, and any perceived polishing of the band’s sound had no effect on the armour piercing nature of Hutchison’s lyrics. In fact, despite sometimes being told from the outside looking in, Painting Of A Panic Attack contains some of his most lacerating verses. Such is the emotional heft he was willing to throw into these songs that some, at the time of its release, questioned Hutchison’s legitimacy. But you cannot fake a faceless pain that darkens your door. Hutchison was just doing as he had always done: battling his demons in the only way he knew how, and, in doing so, rescuing countless others along the way. Such honesty is hard to hear, and Hutchison came to epitomise a new form of masculinity where real strength is found in the bravery and courage it takes to share your vulnerability.
Painting Of A Panic Attack is a sympathetic echo of our innermost turmoil. Perhaps giving more of himself than he should have, Hutchison offered up his own struggles as reassurance for others; a role that is impossible to play for yourself. He lets us in on his shortcomings (‘Wrapped my hand around the glass again / We all thought that I might change as I got older’ – I Wish I Was Sober) and faces the crutches he wishes he did not need to lean on. But for every moment of pain or embarrassment shared, he has a conciliatory message of hope. While recognising ‘The perfect place may never exist’ on I Still Want To Be Here, he maintains that there is beauty and wonder still to be found – no matter what has come before. ‘Get together now, find hope / There is a life beyond the one you already know’ – Lump Street.
Painting Of A Panic Attack may not have been the last body of work he left us with. That title falls to the crushing brilliance of the Dance Music record he recorded with his brother, Grant, and members of Editors and Minor Victories as Mastersystem. But it stands as the final act in a play of biblical proportions; a summation of all that was great and good about Frightened Rabbit and Hutchison’s songwriting, and further proof of the fact he should be regarded as one of the finest writers of his time. Hutchison’s songs make you feel less alone, and, on Painting Of A Panic Attack, wrapped in its wondrous compositions are the same unifying elements of humanity that connect us, flaws and all, to those around us. There are also, as you lean in close, the traces of an understanding of how we help each other through. We talk, we listen, we create and we share. And that is how we get the devil off our back, or at least walk from under its shadow.
I have written this line before and read it written by others, but it bears repeating. Thank you, Scott, for everything.
The charity, Tiny Changes, was set up in memory of Scott Hutchison following his passing – with a focus on supporting children and young people in the mental health space. You can find out more about the work they do here: https://tinychanges.com/
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