Frightened Rabbit’s ‘The Midnight Organ Fight‘ (2008) is one of the all-time great breakup albums. It stands alongside Josh Ritter’s ‘The Beast In Its Tracks‘ (2013), Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood On The Tracks‘ (1975), and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Tunnel Of Love‘ (1987) in the pantheon of exceptional responses to a relationship’s end. It’s also a truly haunting look into the mind of singer and songwriter Scott Hutchison. His writing on ‘Organ Fight’ and throughout his career is generous, witty, raw, and absolutely heartbreaking. He never makes excuses for or seeks to justify himself. His songs are bitingly critical and in places gut-wrenchingly sharp, but also often kind, projecting love and hope into the world.
All this makes ‘Organ Fight’ an undeniably great album, but it also makes it very hard to cover – and ‘Tiny Changes‘ very hard to review. The context of this tribute’s release further complicates matters. Conceived and recorded before Scott’s tragic, sudden 2018 suicide, the record becomes something of a strange hybrid. None of these artists knew they were making a posthumous tribute album, and the remaining band members, including Scott’s brother Grant, likely faced enormous doubts about putting ‘Tiny Changes’ out.
Overall, though, this works to the album’s credit. Freed from the pressure of commemorating a lost friend, the contributors focus on the songs. Some renditions are very close to the originals, but it’s hard to complain when the songs are this good. Others bring out something new. Josh Ritter turns ‘Old Old Fashioned’ into a playful bluegrass knees up, while Craig Finn adds a chillier element to ‘Head Rolls Off’, from which this tribute takes its title. “While I’m alive“, Scott sang over a decade ago, “I’ll make tiny changes to Earth’. Finn delivers the line with a tinge of doubt, but the sentiment survives“.
The eclectic range of contributors helps, too. US comedian Sarah Silverman duets with Harkin on a haunting, ambient ‘My Backwards Walk’, while Biffy Clyro play up the dynamic shifts in opener ‘The Modern Leper’, launching into full blown Heavy Rock by the song’s end. Inletts expand the interstitial piece ‘Extrasupervery’ into a towering electronic cacophony. Not everything works – Daughter’s Elena Tonra struggles to inject enough venom into ‘Poke’s’ central swear, and Oxford Collapse do little of note with ‘I Feel Better’. Still, the album hits far more than it misses, and it benefits from following ‘Organ Fight’s track-listing, ensuring tonal shifts remain well placed. A couple songs are inexplicably repeated at the end, but this doesn’t derail the record’s coherence.
Of course, there remains one great elephant in the room: ‘Floating in the Forth’. This song is easily the hardest thing about hearing ‘Organ Fight’ in 2019, with its eerie similarities to the details of Scott’s eventual suicide. It’s hard to imagine anyone would have tackled this one after the singer’s death. Thankfully, The Twilight Sad nail it. They came up alongside Frightened Rabbit, and singer James Graham was especially close to Scott. They’re the perfect act to record ‘Forth’, and their version succeeds absolutely, drenched in reverb and swaddled in dirty electric guitars. Graham’s repetition of the last line, “I think I’ll save suicide for another year“, is both poignant and hopeful.
‘Tiny Changes’ is in some ways strange, transformed by circumstance from celebration of a great album to eulogy for a great songwriter, but it succeeds far more than it fails, offering sometimes intriguing twists on Organ Fight’s tracks. More than this, it shows the great impact Scott’s work had on his fellow musicians.
If you or somebody you care about are struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health illness of any form and need help (or just somebody to talk to) please contact Samaritans on the following numbers or by clicking on the link provided:
116 123 (UK)
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