Snow Patrol's latest effort loses steam fast, falling back into the trap of a made-for-radio release.
It is no secret that in recent years Snow Patrol has garnered a reputation for abandoning their true sound for something more sellable and radio-ready. In the time since their first commercial success they’ve produced a series of overly mundane albums and a hit single (“Chasing Cars”) so ordinary and dull it and they became the background white noise of the music community.
Which is why fanfare surrounding their sixth album, Fallen Empires, was limited if somewhat non-existent. Anyone interested in Snow Patrol when they had something to say had long stopped listening, let down so thoroughly by the bands self-imposed selling out that the album’s anticipated release date was anything but anticipated.
So it was naturally surprising to be brought back to a time pre-Final Straw (2003) in the initial stages of Snow Patrol’s latest effort. Maybe a little more pop-driven than anything on Songs for Polarbears (1998), Fallen Empires opens with three truly unique anthems that raise expectations, pulling the listener through the looking glass and back to a time Snow Patrol played music for music and not for millions. “I’ll Never Let You Go,” “Called Out In The Dark,” and “The Weight Of Love,” have a sort of new-age New Wave vibe, a winding synth guitar laid over a dead beat with the building vocals and lyrics of front man Gary Lightbody hitting new heights.
The songs are actually so well put together that through the first 14 minutes of the album you’re convinced it’s going to be good, that Snow Patrol has come through the petty stages of stardom and decided again to make music that mattered. Which is why the fall from there is so tragic. “This Isn’t Everything You Are” is a classic reversion to “Chasing Cars,” a radio-made single to sell. “The Garden Rules” is a travesty and just as you think the album is picking back up with “Fallen Empires,” and “Berlin,” Snow Patrol throws the whole thing out the window. The rest of the album, save maybe “The Symphony” is a lost cause.
This is a band that seems trapped, caught between the sound that brought them mainstream success and the type of music they want to play. They’re scared to step too far away from the limelight for fear they might not find their way back to it. The first three tracks are evidence that they are trying to wander and we’ll happily have them do that but the album as a whole is reflective of a greater identity crisis and never comes together as a cohesive project. At some point they will have to decide which way they’re going: down the new age New Wave road or back into the abyss with the Top 40 crowd.
Best Tracks: Called Out In The Dark, The Weight of Love
Skip These: Lifening, The Garden Rules
Check out Snow Patrol’s Fallen Empires for yourself on either CD or MP3