We don’t typically double-dip here at Popblerd, in terms of record reviews. But when my buddy and Popblerd brethren Mike A. had a much different reaction to the new Snow Patrol record, we decided an exception to the rule was in order; Mike would review Fallen Empires around its UK release date, while I would take the reins in time for the US release. Mike’s review can be found here, and it’s well worth a read, primarily because your reaction to Fallen Empires just may largely depend on how you’ve felt about Snow Patrol up to this point.
Let me explain. Mike once enjoyed Snow Patrol; I wouldn’t go so far as to say I don’t like them, but they’ve never particularly excited me, either. Years removed from its cultural ubiquity, I’m sure “Chasing Cars” will sound like the sweeping, marvelous ballad it probably is, but right now, I’ve got too many memories of movie trailers and ABC dramas in my head to truly appreciate it (see also: Fray, The). This is why I like Fallen Empires a great deal; to me, this sounds like a rejuvenated, more interesting Snow Patrol than the one I’m tangentially familiar with. The band has cited a U2 influence for this record; specifically The Joshua Tree, although the disc seems much more in line with Achtung Baby and its chilly, vaguely electronica inflections, to say nothing of its bruised, resilient take on heartbreak.
Had opener “I’ll Never Let Go” encapsulated the appeal of Fallen Empires, perhaps we’d have a new classic on our hands; it thunders like the stormy, reverb-laden “Zoo Station”, which opened that U2 record 20 years ago, pulsates like a vintage Bloc Party jam, and even boasts the race-for-the-horizon scope of “Where the Streets Have No Name”. The rest of the album fails to live up to its opening salvo, it’s true, but it’s a disarming collection of slow-burn ballads (and an electro-rocker or two) that hit at Snow Patrol’s strengths, particularly singer-songwriter Gary Lightbody and his walls-down emotional accessibility. The lovelorn, transatlantic “New York” builds to a waltzing, swooning coda, flush with stomping brass and chiming bells, that marries Beirut’s kitchen-sink knack for multi-instrumental symphonies with Coldplay’s soaring arena-primed high points. “Called Out in the Dark” welds an electronic thump and farting bass to Mumford & Sons’ pop-sojourner wayfaring; meanwhile, the lovely, low-key “Lifening” underscores its central guitar figure with a slowly swelling organ, and finds Lightbody opining about the little things that make life worth living. It’s a gorgeous moment, and the type of thing that Snow Patrol find themselves in high supply of throughout Fallen Empires.
And yes, much like Bono, Lightbody often stumbles upon a lyrical clunker, or something that’s simply too syrupy or over-earnest to truly exist. Many have pointed to “The Garden Rules”, wherein he unironically sings “you’ll never know how much I love you so” by way of a chorus; but, like Cameron Crowe’s classic romance Jerry Maguire, the most maudlin parts of the work only sound like high cheese out of context. Within the framework of the ballad, much like “you complete me”, the line earns its po-faced sentimentality well. The quiet moments like this are welcome respite; when Snow Patrol are indulging in some much-needed experimentation, their album is the sort of crackling, yearning, wandering-around-the-empty-city-at-3AM type of rock that simply needs to exist to soundtrack these moments.