Album Review: Snow Patrol ‘Fallen Empires’
Fallen Empires is an album of subtle movements. Even if you are not consciously aware of the direction of travel, you are most certainly being taken somewhere. The question is how far Snow Patrol is willing to go.
The opener, ‘I’ll Never Let Go’, builds suspense and introduces the band’s desire to include some new elements this time around, which is a great sign from an outfit which has been largely stuck in place for some time now. The song delivers a sort of restrained climax of rolling, almost gospel wails, then moves quickly on to the next track. ‘Called Out in the Dark’ holds on to that tension and attempts to take it in another direction.
I say ‘attempts’ because it’s really not much of a turn. Were this an album by almost any other band I might be saying that these songs are fairly indistinguishable from one another, but Snow Patrol is clearly trying to experiment with very gentle swerves away from their own well-trodden path.
Fallen Empires shifts into a new phase every few songs, without ever really leaving behind the tone it set with the opening track. These shifts are not at all dramatic, or even sometimes noticeable, but are more akin to movements within a single composition. It’s a very cohesive experience, and just barely dynamic enough not to feel overly monotonous. The album works extremely well as a whole.
Everything about this record, and really the band as well, is best described with the word subtle.
The band plays with some new toys on Fallen Empires, allowing electronic elements into the music, but barely. As I write this I feel like I’m awarding the band a gold star purely for the effort, even if it hasn’t quite had the impact that it could have if they went at it with a little more gusto. It’s probably not right to grade on a curve, in which case I would have to call the whole thing a little uninspired.
The titular ‘Fallen Empires’ picks up the sense of urgency presented by the first few songs, and ups the tempo slightly. It feels like this is what the album has been building towards, but it’s a bit of a let down on that front, and there are 7 tracks left.
‘Berlin’ acts as a separator as Fallen Empires makes its most pronounced transition. Though, that transition is back to the somewhat bland guitar music they have been playing for the last decade or so.
This isn’t such a bad thing, because this is really where the band’s strengths lie. Snow Patrol have a great ability to craft catchy tunes and hooks, within their own indie framework. It’s never overly poppy or panderous, but has the positives and the impact of lesser music without having to sacrifice a whole lot.
It really is a shame that Snow Patrol is so content to stay put and write songs that are very safe, and sometimes uninteresting, because Fallen Empires would have been a better album if it had the confidence to take things a little further. The band is evolving, but very, very gradually, as if they are afraid that if they go too far they won’t be able to come back from it.
I very much look forward to hearing the results when they get to wherever they are going, but I’m not holding my breath. Wake me when we get there.