Any time a band declares they’re going in a new direction and practically begs their fans to give it a chance, I get leery. That usually means something really amazing or truly awful is about to go down with their next album. For a band like Snow Patrol, who has excelled at fairly middle of the road, melodic indie pop/rock since their 2003 breakthrough Final Straw, I feared it would be the latter.
Snow Patrol falls into that category of bands critics love to hate, much like Coldplay, a band they are often lumped in with. I’ve personally never given a crap what is fashionable to like or what is going to damage my “cred”. I know what I like when I hear it and I’m liking Snow Patrol a whole lot less these days. “Run” remains one of my favorite songs ever, and I loved Eyes Open from beginning to end (and no, I don’t care how schmaltzy you may think “Chasing Cars” is, it’s a great pop ballad). But Fallen Empires, although better than 2008’s A Hundred Million Suns, is still positively mediocre.
As for that talked about new direction, well there isn’t one really. OK, Snow Patrol has added some synths and electronics to their music, but for the most part this is still pretty standard fare for the band. This is far from some reinvention, just some slight tweaking here and there. Fallen Empires still consists of the Snow Patrol formula of play it safe, catchy, unoffensive pop and rock, with a good heaping of ballads in the mix.
This works best on tracks like first single “Called Out In The Dark”, a danceable piece of electro-rock, and the album’s longest song “The Symphony”, a six minute anthem complete with sing-along ready backing harmonies. Amongst the five ballads present, “New York” is the clear cut winner, a powerful piano based track with Gary Lightbody offering an impassioned vocal performance. None of the ballads are truly bad, but fall more on the pleasant side, rather fluffy and lightweight. Lightbody has never been known as a strong lyricist, I swear he references his “aching bones” on every album, but even he should be above such sap as the “you’ll never know how much I love you so” chorus repeated ad nauseam in “The Garden Rules”.
Out since November 14th in the UK, Fallen Empires will see its American release January 10th of next year. You could do worse in this genre, but when I consider the astounding releases this year from the likes of Bell X1 and The Envy Corps who are doing this whole melodic pop/rock thing as well as anyone, you can do a whole lot better too.
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