Review Summary: Underrated Scots show noobs what they've been missing out on pre-"Chasing Cars"
Retrospective collections can work one of two ways. You can listen to them and reobtain your long-lost appreciation for the band and their work, with the tracks featured providing some of the highlights of their career. On the other hand, it could simply drive home just how little of the artists’ work you actually enjoy; or perhaps you’ll begin to perceive the band as only good with their singles. It’s for this reason that you should go into listening to things like Snow Patrol’s latest release, Up to Now
, with a wary mind about you – especially considering it’s a thirty-track, two CD compilation.
Sure, like most releases that are convinced they necessitate two discs, the likable Scots could have probably put this together on one disc. Having said that, Up to Now will probably work you further towards the first reaction. For all the Grey’s Anatomy montages and decline in overall album quality in recent years, Snow Patrol are still pretty far from terrible, as many critics have made them out to be over the years. Matter of fact, Up to Now indicates they’re close to pretty good.
The premise of Up to Now
is to look back at the band’s fifteen year career with selections from all five studio albums, in addition to some b-sides, three new songs and, somewhat inexplicably, two tracks from vocalist Gary Lightbody’s side project, The Reindeer Section. Sure, it’s a little overstuffed – not to mention the tracklisting is absolutely all over the place. Still, it’s a good opportunity to expose more recent listeners to sections of the band’s more lo-fi/indie work from 1998’s Songs for Polarbears
and 2001’s wonderfully titled When It’s All Over, We Still Have to Clear Up
’ “Starfighter Pilot” is still as bouncy and catchy as it was eleven years ago; the stirring “Fifteen Minutes Old”, meanwhile, recalls Facts
-era Death Cab for Cutie meets Things We Lost
-era Low. Tracks from Clear Up
, like the gorgeous “Ask Me How I Am” and “An Olive Grove Facing the Sea” (which has been especially re-recorded for the compilation) are not only strongly-written tracks on their own, but allow an insight into who the band was, juxtaposed with who they would become following 2004’s Final Straw
Let’s note that who they became is not intended for negative connotations (i.e. no-one is pointing the “sellout” finger). Hell, Final Straw
may well be the band’s best album – disc one opener “Chocolate”, the band’s first ‘hit’ in “Run” (here featured both live and in the studio) and “Spitting Games” all get a slot here, just a small highlight reel of a consistently interesting pop album. Tracks from 2008’s A Hundred Million Suns
don’t hold a great deal of interest, but lead single “Take Back the City” is certainly a lot catchier than first remembered. The platinum seller Eyes Open
gets the lion’s share here – a move which is commercially understandable but creatively dumbfounding. No-one – repeat: NO-ONE – needs to hear “Chasing Cars” again. Not even Kate Walsh and Katherine Heigl as they rush to the aid of McDreamy, McSteamy and McWhatever.
There are three new songs here to accompany the retrospect. You know when songs just sound like they’re the thrown-together pastiches for the hits CD just to move a few more units? Breathe easy – even in their flaws, these tracks at least show some kind of effort. “Just Say Yes”, the single chosen out of the three, is a spacey slice of synth-pop with Tom Simpson’s spiralling keys and bleeps that dominate the soundscape. The atmosphere is lovely, though the awe-inspired chorus is all too familiar. It’s not a bad track by any means, but hardly the kind of fearless revolution the band makes it out to be – especially with the cheesy lyrics (“I can feel your heart beating through my shirt”) and the looming fact the song was nearly recorded by Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls.
“Give Me Strength” is much more compacted and crystal-eyed, as layers of harpsichord, acoustic guitar and a swelling string section guide Lightbody’s frail and weary voice – resulting in a strong ballad, perhaps one of their better ones in recent years. “Dark Roman Wine” lulls in comparison to the other new tracks. It’s a beat-less waltz of low-key accordion loops and echoing atypical Lightbody delivery – it motions as if it’s about to take off and soar, yet never does. Disappointing? A little, but one would suppose it’s to be expected by new compilation material.
Up to Now
is a fully blown look back at a fifteen year career. It’s hardly been smooth sailing, and there’s material here that will both alienate and annoy fans old and new. Even so, if you’re only going to own one Snow Patrol record, it might as well be this one.