Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Review: Snow Patrol - Fallen Empires

 It's always admirable to see a band change their style. It shows a sense of dynamism, a willingness to adapt and a wider range of versatility to their music. But just because it's admirable, it doesn't always mean it's any good. The most recent group to prove this are Irish Dundee based alt rock group Snow Patrol, a band that have won a place in the hearts of the UK and beyond after the release of their fourth album Eyes Open which was essentially a snapshot of everything that was perfect about the group. It was a passionate, heart-warming display of beautifully crafted alternative rock with a glossier pop influence as well. So successful it was, that it was a style they pretty much copied for 2008's A Hundred Million Suns. As a result, most of the songs were mostly thought of as the 2008 equivalent of songs from Eyes Open. If There's a Rocket, Tie Me to It was 2008's Chasing Cars, Disaster Button was 2008's Headlights on Dark Roads and Please Just Take These Photos From My Hands was 2008's It's Beginning to Get to Me. Consequently these songs were compared only to Eyes Open and really couldn't compare to it. So, they've tried something new. So now they've decided to display an electronic infused indie rock sound on their sixth album Fallen Empires where synthesizers act as the driving force of the songs. And though it's different, it's not a style that suits them at all.

Really, this kind of effect serves as a problem on Fallen Empires, because when listening to the synth led sections on previous albums, it's normally used as a means to reach a harder, riff led climax. On Fallen Empires, this effect is lost. This anti-climactic atmosphere is expressed best in The Weight of Love, which features a basic synthesized backdrop in the verses, with a vocal buildup that suggests a burst into a vast array of riffing and a wider burst into a passionate choral hook. This doesn't happen though. Instead the synthesized backdrop continues. It's dullness and ever-presence is horribly disappointing and just makes the song annoying after a while.
 In fact, guitar work seems to be kept to a minimum on this album, as the likes of Fallen Empires and In the End try to be more danceable and upbeat with their two bit synthesized backdrops that would sound more characteristic and better executed on an album from indietronic duo MGMT, who would probably create a more fun performance of the track. Gary Lightbody's vocals were not made for fun sounding songs. In fact that issue is tackled in The Weight of Love and Called Out in the Dark, badly. At various points Lightbody tries adapting his vocals so they reach a little higher. I don't know why, maybe it's to add more versatility, maybe he's afraid of sounding too monotone. But it doesn't suit him at all, it sounds desperate and cheesy.
 This overuse of synths effects the intended to be emotional songs really allows the performances to falter. Tracks like New York and The President sound weak as the background sound is a digital yawn with the occasional drum beat thrown in for good measure and it manages to strip the song of any power it may want to deliver.
 Lyrically, the styles that we have seen similar to Snow Patrol's previous work remain, which is a good thing, considering many songs have the kind of music suggesting we'd get some happy-clappy nonsense, with the most interesting set of lyrics provided in Lifening.
 Apart from that, there's nothing that could allow Fallen Empires to be thought of as a strong album. The synthesizer effects are dull, Lightbody's attempts to improve his vocals make them sound worse and nothing that has made previous releases so exciting and beautiful are present. I've tried to ignore the common belief by other critics that Snow Patrol are a dull band but with this album, such a claim will be hard to ignore.

 Snow Patrol's Fallen Empires is out now via Fiction Records. The band will tour the UK in January with Everything Everything.

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