x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Snow Patrol: Fallen Empires

More than five years later, Snow Patrol still can't shake that Grey's Anatomy association.

Snow Patrol’s Fallen Empires sounds as though they are trying too hard to copy the likes of U2 and REM. Courtesy Universal Music / HO / AP Photo
Snow Patrol’s Fallen Empires sounds as though they are trying too hard to copy the likes of U2 and REM. Courtesy Universal Music / HO / AP Photo

Fallen Empires
Fiction
??

It's easy to criticise bands for unexpected success.

Charges of selling-out are par for the course for any artist flirting with the limelight.

However, one can't shake off the feeling that all was well with Snow Patrol before the early Grey's Anatomy episode in 2006 that broadcast their ubiquitous single Chasing Cars (not to mention when the tune reappeared, sung by a cast member in the middle of a trauma case in last season's dubious attempt at a musical episode).

The Northern Irish group were never shy of putting their hearts on their sleeves, but it's hard to listen to Chasing Cars now without being reminded of weddings, Valentine's Day and a decent medical drama that propelled its star Patrick Dempsey right out of the 1980s.

Early Snow Patrol records were full of interesting ideas, as the group melded rock and electronica into fizzy pop singles.

However, since their breakout album, the brilliant Final Straw and its mega-successful follow-up Eyes Open (which features Chasing Cars), the band jettisoned the eclecticism for an increasingly streamlined and polished sound.

All of which would have worked well if it maintained the success, but the group's last effort, A Hundred Million Suns dropped off the radar. This latest offering, the sixth album Fallen Empires, is a slightly varied affair that falls far short of past highs.

Fallen Empires came with a lot of hype, claiming the record is intended as a musical departure with choirs and dance beats thrown in the mix, but it treads water as opposed to being a fully immersing experience.

The opening number I'll Never Let You Go is a case in point: after the atmospheric intro, the song reveals itself as devoid of dynamics and instead relies on a chanting chorus to convince listeners it holds some meaning.

The Weight of Love is a similar case. One can't help but think the Snow Patrol of a decade ago would tear into such a track and give it the drive it needs. Instead it sounds rather insipid - like a failed attempt to sound epic.

Therein lies Snow Patrol's problem: they were an indie band suddenly thrust into stadium-headlining gigs.

Instead of sticking to their guns, it seems they decided to consciously write anthems to convince themselves of their new-found status.

It sadly doesn't work, as the group lack the grandeur of U2 or REM, even if there is a choir singing the choruses, as in some of the tracks on Fallen Empires. It is when the group really let go of expectations that they produce some wonderful results.

Called Out in the Dark is a great slice of dance-pop with the singer Gary Lightbody's falsetto soaring over the propulsive rhythm and heavy synths.

The eerie title track has Lightbody adopting a bluesy tenor over a bed of strummed guitars and ebbing keyboards.

New York could be the album's hidden weapon: it's a beautifully crafted piano ballad perfect for Lightbody's husky tone, and with its refrain "come on, come out, come here," could possibly be the group's next Chasing Cars.

The Distant Bells also works because of its stark simplicity; with Lightbody's acoustic guitar accompanied by sparse keyboards and a drum machine.

The set closer Symphony is a reminder the group can give Coldplay a run for their money in creating euphoric anthems, complete with "woohoos" and a catchy chorus.

Fallen Empires is nowhere near as revolutionary as the group intended it to be. However, despite its misfires, there are a few stubborn reminders that Snow Patrol can be more interesting than the material they have been peddling lately.

One hopes that instead of aping the sounds and influences of their musical heroes, Snow Patrol can perhaps pay attention to qualities that made those acts great: self-confidence and doing things their own way.

If that proves to be hard, they should just pretend Chasing Cars never happened.

 

sa.saeed@thenational.ae