Sunday, 8 January 2012

Snow Patrol - Fallen Empires


Pick any serious-minded, non-deluded band and if asked, would say that they would never want to live off the success of one solitary song, no matter how acclaimed or popular it may have become (or still be becoming). Where most would usually stop all sense of creative adventuring and just live off the financial rewards, some still thrive to remain active; to achieve even higher success than this supposed three-and-a-half minute composition that both entitles them and at the same time, frustrates them with a never-ending tag for being remembered for just one little act of creative output.

Northern Ireland act, Snow Patrol, the five-piece pop-rock band led by frontman Gary Lightbody, find themselves in this crippling honorary when global hit 'Chasing Cars' is usually the first song that comes to both fans' and hater's minds alike. Five-and-a-half years on from the song that made them global superstars - and no doubtedly too the most used backing artist in every female bedroom-dwelling teen's Youtube uploads - Lightbody and co return from their 2009 back-catalogue 'Up Until Now' with a new mix of uplifting love-and-loss rock in 'Fallen Empires'...this time, drenched in a layering of buzzy synths and body-moving dance rhythms.

The opener 'I'll Never Let Go' is quick to demonstrate the new approach, a paced synth beat leading Lightbody's somewhat passive vocals floating on by. As much as it should be expected, the minimalist progression back to traditional swings of guitar chords and drum hits never really ignites the song. It's thankful then that the final third breathes new life into the track - climax fully loaded with swinging guitar riffs and vocal harmonics that provide, at the very least, some much-needed energy in a song somewhat lacking in its previous parts.

Lead singles 'Called Out In The Dark' - a stop-and-start strumming of bass strings and buzzing electrics alike - and 'This Isn't Everything You Are' don't exactly bring anything new to the table. True, they execute the atypical pop-rock structure with quite a marveled catchiness and respectability, but at times it seems almost too predictable. So much so that you can almost guess - and guess correctly - at the chords both used and what also may be used soon after.

It's not until the self-titled jaggedly tense 'Fallen Empires' do things not only pick up tremendously, but also demonstrate this album certainly has something fresh to provide us with. Rapid strums of rattling strings are the lead instrumentation here, as a lesser-passionate Lightbody drags his voice through the rapidly rising beat of percussion and flat-handed buzz of synths lingering in our peripherals. The following track 'Berlin' is its antithesis, delicately plucked strings instead rummage to the back of a beating of drums and non-lyrical vocals. The song is short but sweet - pace gradually rising; momentum almost uplifting behind the chorus of voices harmonically bonding the instruments together like some trooping of a parade.

But it's still somewhat disappointing that the album, thereafter, continues to follow the same basic progression as showcased on earlier tracks. What energy that exerts itself later on gets forcefully pushed to the side in favor of more simple arrangements of string plucks and rising choruses. Energy exerted yes, but it lacks any form of unifying interest that makes the song anything more than just a rehash of previous song clinchers. 'Those Distant Bells' however, provides a little more sympathetic approach to something more in tune with this pop-rock progression. Gently laid piano keys melt into the delicate rummaging of guitar strings, Lightbody's voice sailing over with what, indeed, may be seen as plushy romantic drivel "And the dark never enters/but it also never leaves/and this speak that he gave you/is just an amber all but out" in actuality loses all connotation and in a sense, becomes a solitary instrument in itself. It's a song that really pays off in both its progression as well as in its execution.

And while 'The Symphony' keeps this melancholic charm without boring the listener - a difficulty only heightened by its six minute length - 'The President' meanwhile, trying to replicate this idea, in the end - whether down to its mix or lack of idealist progression - feels almost disjointed and split apart from one another.

Here and there, like many a Snow Patrol album we are greeted with intriguing signs of development and on occasion sounds that strike a guilt-laiden pleasure in our sentient hearts and our rhythmic feet. But on 'Fallen Empires', while the album is filled with these glistening highlights in the form of carefully selected guitar strings or patters of well-placed percussion hits, it's its left-over majority that weighs it down: these follow-on chord progressions that the band remain unable to detach from. Perhaps that 'certain song' of five years previous has done more to their line of thinking than we had previously thought...and here it seems, feared.
~Jordan

6.3

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