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Track by Track Review of Snow Patrol's Fallen Empires
A Review of Snow Patrol's new album, Fallen Empires
It is difficult to review a new album which has already has quite a bit of hype before its release.
The hype, if that's what I am to call it came mainly from Gary Lightbody, Snow Patrol's poetic, lyricist, songwriter and lead singer.
Gary Lightbody described the long-awaited album more than once, as 'different' and that the band were leaving their comfort zone and going with a new sound.
Has Fallen Empires delivered on Lightbody's promises?
Well yes and no. Some reviewers have already likened it to U2s similar walk off the beaten musical track with their album, Achtung Baby and I can see where the comparison is justified but I think Achtung Baby in many respects marked not a complete change for U2, merely a turn in the road. A road along which they still continued to travel, albeit with the same heart.
Gary Lightbody is, for many Snow Patrol fans, a poet of sorts. His lyrics offer us a way into his own heart and he is a man who feels a lot of things. He doesn't disappoint on this album in this respect. Where Fallen Empires changes its shapes more readily are in its musical direction.
On albums like A Hundred Million Suns, we were already seeing a mellowing down from their first few albums, Songs For Polarbears, When Its All Over We Still Have To Clean Up and Final Straw.
One thing that is prevalent on the first two albums were that quite a few songs were acoustic numbers, so in some sense could Final Straw have been considered their Achtung Baby album? It is the first of their albums with Nathan Connolly on lead guitar and as such represents their movement towards a more rock-orientated sound.
A taster of 'I'll Never Let Go'
Lissie, great on her own really adds to Snow Patrol's sound
Fallen Empires - Track By Track
Fallen Empires is different to A Hundred Million Suns in sound.
A Hundred Million Suns stamps its rock identity loud and clear with its opening track, 'Take Back The City'.
The opening track on Fallen Empires, 'I'll Never Let You Go' delivers an ambiguous promise to listeners. The acoustic guitar is picked with what seems to be the opening chords to Chasing Cars but is layered with a looped synth and high bass rhythm then overlaid with Connolly's reverbed rock guitar riff.
Soon you are pulled into Lightbody's world of lyrical poetry, 'and the vast empire you cut through to get here, makes the world look like pennies in my hat.' He never fails to intrigue and we don't want to stop listening. Listeners rarely quick scan through Snow Patrol songs. Lightbody's voice and words will make you want to hear the end of the story.
Along the way, drums will be introduced along with strings and the unexpected backing vocals provided by Lissie, long one of Lightbody's favourite vocalists and something of a sensation on You Tube (see video included for one of her own songs), 'I'll Never Let Go' delivers as an opening track and it does sound different to a Snow Patrol song but still has many of their traits.
The second track of Snow Patrol's Fallen Empires 'Called Out In The Dark' has already been released as a single and it does sound like a single. Snow Patrol continue with the layering of digital electronica with traditional rock instruments so is not dissimilar to the opening track.
Track 3 The Weight of Love is Lightbody with acoustic guitar and drums is much more like a Snow Patrol song from say Final Straw. Lightbody is a master of melody and the chorus delivers on this count with a wonderful accompaniment from the LA Inner City Mass Choir. The electronica is still there but it melds much more with the other instruments.
Track 4 'This Isn't Everything You Are' was released as a single in the UK and Lightbody again pulls us into his poem, 'don't keel over now' he tells his female friend pining for someone she's lost whilst he talks to her about who she was before this heartbreak, 'and in one little moment it all implodes, this isn't everything you are', 'there's joy not far from here, I know there is, this isn't everything you are.' He is a wonderful comforter, a good friend, a great songwriter.
Track 5 'The Garden Rules' starts with Lightbody's plaintive,'there's the river, there's the house and there's the church and there's us years ago', it's a tale of a long ago childhood love and if you don't get swept up in his chorus, 'Oh you will never know how much I love you so' then maybe you're not into nostalgia? Lissie joins him on backing vocals it adds great poignancy.
Track 6 'Fallen Empires' gives us lots of beats per minutes and that layered electronica mixed with the quickly strummed guitars and strings - it is a perfect contrast to 'The Garden Rules' and as such makes sure we're not complacent into listening to the album.
Its deliberately dissonant vocals that precede the 'We Are The Light' middle eight, again with the LA Inner City Mass Choir give the song a great gospel-like quality.
Track 7, 'Berlin' has a flavour of 'You Could Be Happy' about it but has the glockenspiel then overlayered with a wonderful, full string section accompanied by drum and bass and then just when you're getting into it, it ends!
Track 8, 'Life-Ning' is similar in vain to 'This Isn't Everything...' Lightbody with acoustic instruments talking about his past again, 'Ireland in the World Cup, either North or South' and as a track it slows the album right down to a place of contemplation.
Track 9, 'New York', is a slow-burner with Lightbody's storytelling carrying us away to his New York, 'if our hearts were never broken, then there's no joy in the mending', a real love song for people once again separated by an ocean (he's been here before with 'The Planets Bend Between Us'), it's a long track with wonderful strings and horns, an epic of a song.
Track 10 'In The End' reminded me of one of their other songs. I am wondering now if this homage to songs past is a deliberate game. It's as if Snow Patrol are saying "We're different but hey, listen, we're the same as well."
Track 11,'Those Distant Bells' brings everything down a notch, it is mainly acoustic and Lissie's accompanying vocals in the second chorus lend the song something again. Her voice perfectly complements Gary Lightbody's. After the second chorus there is a brief flirtation with electronica but it fades as quickly as it started. Lyrically, it has a similar nostalgia to 'The Garden Rules' with Lightbody reminding his friend of the memory and the pull of the church bells, of something from times past which clings to the present but might soon evaporate.
Track 12, 'The Symphony' again finds the melding of acoustic and electronic and is riffy in a similar way to 'Open Your Eyes' but unlike that song, 'The Symphony' doesn't really deliver on its promise.
Track 13, 'The President' begins with gentle strings and Lightbody's opening lyric 'I've run to ground, I've run from everyone that I have ever known.' so we know that this is another of his stories and we have to see this one through with him. A tale of things broken and things fixed, of wisdom of loved ones ignored and of Lightbody's desperate need to make peace with someone.
Track 14 is the closing track, 'Broken Bottles Form A Star' takes us back away from the quiet contemplation of 'The President' back into jangly piano, plucked pizzicato strings and is a brief instrumental pick-me-up from 'The President'.
Fallen Empires opens more doors than it closes and I think that that is a good thing. We still have more than a trace of the old Snow Patrol. All of these songs served as suggestions of their 'older' style, they even gave us a few aide memoirs to shake up our sense memories but these new songs are richer for this melding of old and new styling and arrangements. Jacknife Lee, their producer, is a creative talent and in this album has his input in spades.
Snow Patrol are touring with the album at the moment and the album is due for release in the USA very soon. Let's hope this album introduces more fans to this talented band.