Review Summary: “I think the finish line's a good place we could start”
There’s no real reason to expect anything out of a new Snow Patrol album in 2018. Hell, there’s no real reason in the first place to expect anything out of an adult alternative one hit wonder that exploded in 2006 due to following a formula of soaring music designed to be played over the dramatic moments of dramas. But they did nail that formula, with Eyes Open arguably being the best album among the many U2 wannabes that dominated that year. Frontman Gary Lightbody’s way around a hook and overly detailed yet very earnest writing helped give that album an emotional power that resulted in an album of 11 memorable and heartfelt radio rock tunes that tapped into something their contemporaries wished they could have. Sadly, the same can be said for Snow Patrol themselves during their following albums. While A Hundred Million Suns still has plenty of shining moments (notably the opening and the closing numbers), it was a very inconsistent record that had as many brilliant tracks as it did just flat out boring. And Fallen Empires was an exhausted hour long affair that perfectly showed a band completely out of ideas. The formula that had worked so well for them in the past had run it’s course long ago, and with each passing album it became more and more tired.
Considering the enormous gap between releases and Lightbody flat out admitting he had suffered massive writers block for an extended period of time it’s honestly kind of surprising this album even exists. Perhaps Fallen Empires was the final nail in the coffin and we’d never see anything from this band again, or at the very least anything passable. But seven years later, here we are with their newest album Wildness. A supposedly more diverse affair than their previous records, especially regarding the lyrical themes which deviate from the usual Snow Patrol formula of 40 minutes of breakup songs to instead focus on Lightbody’s personal life. And the band was certainly right about this being their most diverse collection of songs as this is definitely their most ambitious record in a while, if ever. However, this ambition comes with great inconsistency both in tone and quality, making for a decent albeit hit and miss comeback.
There is a clear effort here made by Lightbody and co. to make an album that tries to combine experimentation with the sound that drew fans to the band in the firsts place, and more often than not the latter pays off better. “Heal Me” and “Empress” are enjoyable throwbacks to their earlier days, filled with soaring hooks and anthemic compositions that wouldn’t feel out of place on Eyes Open. “What if This is All the Love You Ever Get” is a stripped back ballad similar to if “The Finish Line” had been performed with nothing but piano and Lightbody’s vocals that serves as a nice transition piece in the middle of the album. This isn’t to say the more expansive moments don’t shine in places though. “Soon” is a stunner addressing Lightbody’s father’s dementia. The eerie synths and strings in the background of the morose acoustic guitar line helps make the song all the more haunting. Album closer “Life and Death” is the clear highlight hear, as Lightbody’s falsetto floats over the somber, airy instrumental creating a surreal and melancholic tone. A build up pops up during the second chorus that leads into the climax of the song before it wisps away in the form of gentle vocal harmonies. It’s one of few moments on here that shows the band still is capable of epics such as “Open Your Eyes” and “The Lightning Strike”, and stands as one of the better tracks in Snow Patrol’s discography.
However, with all the successes of the album, there are plenty of missteps to be found. “Don’t Give In” is Lightbody’s most astonishingly bad vocal performances, as he attempts to do a Springsteen impression during the Imagine Dragons lite chorus and fails miserably. “A Dark Switch” is a somewhat funky feeling song and while not horribly written sounds extremely out of place on the record which is not helped by Lightbody’s vocals. “A Youth Written in Fire” is the lowest point on the record, pairing cheap electronics with embarrassing lyrics such as “remember the first time we kissed / it felt like a planet forming”.
Overall Wildness is a half good album and a respectable effort for the band at this stage in their career, but after seven years of development it leaves a lot to be desired. The high points are enough to keep this above the mediocrity of Fallen Empires, but not quite enough to make up for the average and in some instances flat out terrible songs. It’d be interesting to hear how the band will develop some of the better ideas here in the future as there are glimmers potential that could later lead to some of their best work. However, considering how dull the rest of their recent output has been, anything memorable is a step in the right direction
Track Picks: Empress, What if This is All the Love You Ever Get, Soon
Skip: Don’t Give In, A Youth Written in Fire