You wouldn't imagine one man could feel so much: like its two immediate predecessors Eyes Open and A Hundred Million Suns, this latest Snow Patrol album comes freighted with the weight of Gary Lightbody's emotional turmoil. As he observes late on in the album, "I've crashed to earth, but I've fallen for so long that it was just relief" – and certainly, at times here one suspects he simply enjoys a damn good wallow in self-pity.
But at least you can tell when one's coming on, by the epic melancholy of the piano chords that recur like a symphonic motif in "The President", in the song of aching separation "New York", and most effectively in the new single "This Isn't Everything You Are", where the uplifting title hook, a cross between Coldplay and Elbow, provides the album's most affecting moment. The gentle thrum of strings and stiff-upper-lip nobility of a lone horn offers fulsome, but doubtless sincere, support in surmounting bereavement, offering further confirmation that consolation is the dominant trope in modern stadium rock, rather than the exultation or hedonism that marked earlier examples of the form.
However, Lightbody's by no means as wallowy here as he once was. Fallen Empires is the band's most varied and adventurous album yet, and he applies himself accordingly elsewhere. "I'll Never Let Go" opens proceedings with an urgent throb akin to Joy Division's "Transmission", then shifts gears, using gospelly backing vocals to acquire an anthemic veneer reminiscent of "Gimme Shelter" – both unlikely touchstones for this band. And in "Lifening", Lightbody lists what he wants from life – from "Ireland in the World Cup, either North or South", to "Just some simple kindness, no vengeance from the gods" – over a backdrop of guitar arpeggios, strings and woodwind. Most shockingly of all, there's even a singalong road song of quite charming aspect, "The Symphony", which finds him barreling along in almost euphoric mood: "You can see the road ahead in your dreams/ The engine's more a sigh than a scream/ Your ghosts look more like angels from there," etc. Even if it's just a dream metaphor, the auguries are all positive this time around.
There's a fair complement of standard-issue stuff bulking out the album – there's a sort of chugging, methodical inevitability about songs such as "The Weight of Love" and the U2-esque "In the End", and the more delicate childhood reminiscence "The Garden Rules" promises rather more than it ultimately delivers – but they're balanced by striking sonic strategies elsewhere, most notably the John Adams-like monochord tumult of "Fallen Empires" itself and its virtual reprise in the minimalist piano hubbub of "Broken Bottles Form a Star", which closes the album. Overall, it's their most spirited effort yet, and the changes have been deftly effected in a way which shouldn't alienate their core fanbase too much. Perhaps that's what Lightbody means when he sings, "We are listening, and we're not blind".
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