There’s a track on Frightened Rabbit’s 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight that must surely qualify as one the most uplifting songs ever written about death. Head Rolls Off is a darkly comic, determinedly sanguine and cheerfully godless meditation on the prospect one’s own demise. In it, the Scottish indie outfit’s frontman Scott Hutchison makes a pledge. “While I’m alive,” he croons over a background jangling, celtic-flavoured guitar-pop, “I’ll make tiny changes to earth”.
Hutchison was the driving force behind this covers album, which takes its title from that lyric and finds the band’s friends recreating the entirety The Midnight Organ Fight. Hutchison killed himself in May 2018: now the record serves as a tribute. Each track is performed by a different act – the National’s Aaron Dessner, Craig Finn the Hold Steady and Josh Ritter among them. That Tiny Changes is an astoundingly good album is no huge surprise – its source material reverberates with brilliance.
Operating largely within the realms folk-facing indie, Frightened Rabbit specialise in the kind rustic pop songs that wear their perfectly-pitched melodies impressively lightly. Hutchison’s lyrics, however, are where he comprehensively outstripped his peers: on TMOF he wrote about a breakup and the associated bleakness with so much creativity, humour and beauty that at times his talent felt outrageous.
Some the songs on Tiny Changes are straightforward homages; others are reworked with a subtle and considered idiosyncrasy that proves just how robust and varied Hutchison’s songwriting was. Biffy Clyro draw out the heavy rock influences on opener The Modern Leper, punctuating it with bursts grinding noise that evoke a troubled mind. Comedian Sarah Silverman and touring Sleater-Kinney member Katie Harkin reshape My Backwards Walk into an eerily girlish duet that highlights the pathos-laden magical thinking its premise. Daughter’s version Poke, meanwhile, fiddles with the formal arrangements, transforming the song into a genteel dance number.
There’s always something bittersweet about a posthumous outpouring love for a musician, carrying with it the knowledge that the artist never experienced such praise for themselves. In Hutchison’s case, this project that he masterminded assuages that feeling somewhat. It radiates with an admiration and enthusiasm for his work that is impossible to ignore – and provides confirmation, if it was needed, that his impact on the music world was very far from tiny.
• In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.