Snow Patrol devotees have been anticipating the band’s sixth album since 2008. Given the wait, its arrival has come with high expectations attached to it. The vast success of the platinum certified “Eyes Open”, and effective simplicity of “A Hundred Million Suns”, raised the band’s benchmark and left a menacing shadow to be filled in their wake.
“Fallen Empires” has been hailed an experimental change of direction for Snow Patrol. It is unfortunate that since its November 16th U.K. release date, it has garnered generally mixed reviews. Composed of 14 tracks, and produced over a six month period (the band’s longest up to date), the album is arguably the band’s most mature to date and deserves recognition as so.
It seems appropriate that front-man Gary Lightbody has called the new album the band’s “smartest student”. Self-reflection and new-found wisdom permeate this album and it is evident upon the first listen. No doubt, the band has grown, both musically and lyrically. The songs deal predominantly with themes of home, loss of love and re-discovering oneself. There is a fragility and nostalgia in the undertones of “Fallen Empires” that produces an intimacy unparalleled in Snow Patrol’s music to date. In the album’s strongest moments, melodies soar to nearly heartbreaking heights, and it is impossible to be unmoved. Lightbody’s courage to wear his vulnerability on his sleeve has always been his most potent weapon of seduction, and he uses it especially well on this album.
The album reaches its high with the haunting ballad, “New York”, a riveting melody about missed opportunities for love, that many fans have already argued may rival “Chasing Cars”. Similarly, tracks like “The Garden Rules” and “Life-ning” exemplify the soulfulness and childlike innocence that has always characterized Snow Patrol’s best work. Sure enough, the depth of the album shines through in its more melancholy moments. Listeners are led by ear on a journey through the wreckage sites of Lightbody’s failures in love. “The President” is a chillingly honest confrontation with the mistake of detaching oneself from the people who love you and being too proud to ask for help: “I’ve crashed to earth, but I’ve fallen for so long that it was just relief”. Yet, while errors in judgment were made and accounted for, Lightbody rebels against the idea of letting them permanently define him. As low as the album plunges into motifs of regret and self-criticism, it maintains an even stronger sense of hope. This is particularly illuminated in the album’s uplifting second single, “This Isn’t Everything You Are”. It is made clear then, that Lightbody’s “Fallen Empire” is not his destiny, but rather another chance to start from the ground up and grow into someone better.
Fans of Snow Patrol’s earlier work will find their typical feel-good optimism in the album’s catchy pop tracks such as “Those Distant Bells” and “The Weight of Love”. They’ll rock out to the commanding track “In the End”, they’ll dance (yes, dance) to the electronica tune “I’ll Never Let Go”, and hum along half unaware to the sweetly understated “Berlin”, which manages to be an earworm even without words.
The North American release date for the album is set for January 10th. It seems safe to say that 2012 will be a big year for Snow Patrol the world over. Calling “Fallen Empires” a change in the band’s direction is a gross understatement. This album is nothing short of a turning point for Snow Patrol. It breaks new ground and sets a new standard for the band to surpass. Thematically, it flirts with loneliness and reminiscence, but ultimately determines that pushing onward is the worthier course of human action.
Trial Tracks: New York, Those Distant Bells, This Isn’t Everything You Are, The Garden Rules, In the End, The President, Life-ning, The Weight of Love
By Sophia Trozzo