As you may or may not know, I’ve been a Snow Patrol fan for a number of years, with my fandom gradually gathering momentum like a slow-moving avalanche (you see what I did there?) ever since I heard “Called Out in the Dark” when it was first released. Before then, I’d had vaguely warmish feelings towards “Chasing Cars,” their mega-hit, but not enough to buy any albums. It was just too sappy for me. Their 2011 album “Fallen Empires,” however, changed that, and made me examine their work with a more critically appreciative eye.
And what I found was a band that is deceptively simple and pop-y, even schmaltzy, on the surface, but whose music holds up to serious scrutiny. No, seriously. Go read their lyrics and get back to me.
Okay, now that you’re back and are fully in agreement with me about the brilliance of their lyrics, let’s discuss the new album “Wildness,” which dropped today. I preordered it, so I got access to some of the pre-release singles like “Don’t Give In” and “Empress,” both a beautiful combination of infectious pop and bittersweet feel-good poignant wistfulness. The rest I’ve been discovering by playing the album on repeat all day. While I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface, I just couldn’t wait another second to recommend it to others (you can thank me later) and so am leaping into this review unprepared. I may realize I was completely wrong later, but for the moment, here we go:
Although Snow Patrol don’t do concept albums in the same vein as, for example, The Streets’ “A Grand Don’t Come for Free,” there are certain motifs and themes that hold their albums together. “A Hundred Million Suns” places the lyrical “I” against a backdrop of enormous natural forces, as personal feelings mirror, or are mirrored by, oceans and storms. “Fallen Empires” placed the lyrical “I” on a physical and spiritual journey, with the central song of the album, “Lifening,” set in lead singer Gary Lightbody’s native Ireland and describing unification across space and time.
“Wildness” continues the maturing process we see in “Fallen Empires,” with a more mature lyrical “I” looking back and feeling grateful for even the half-gifts he’s been given, as in the slow, stripped-to-the-bones “What If This Is All the Love You Ever Get?” Healing, reconciliation, and learning from the past feature prominently in the song, as they do in the album as a whole, most notably in “Heal Me,” but as a subtext in many of the other songs as well. And although “Heal Me” could in some ways be the thematic track for the album, it is in other ways anomalous, as one of the few songs in which the lyrical “I” seeks salvation from another person, a common feature of previous albums. Much of the rest of this album is introspective, searching for self-understanding rather than rushing from other person to other person, hoping to find the keys to happiness somewhere on the outside.
I hesitate to say much more about the album’s themes without further study, but I’ll conclude by pointing out that, for all the that there’s a picture of the astronaut on the cover, the album is perhaps the most grounded that Snow Patrol has put out, something signaled by the opening track “Life on Earth.” Although the broadranging, interstellar imagination behind, e.g., “Lifeboats” is still present, “Wildness” is both more domesticated, and more interconnected, than previous albums, with the human element foregrounded.
Musically, the sound is indubitably “Snow Patrol,” while being quite varied from song to song. Each listener will have their own favorite or set of favorites, depending on whether they prefer pop, rock, or ballads. My personal recommendations are “A Dark Switch,” whose upbeat, vaguely Latin-esque sound contrasts with the lyrics, and “A Youth Written in Fire,” which seems to show a touch of the influence of Bon Iver, but each track is a stand-out in its own way.
There’s probably much more that I could say, and no doubt other people will come with more detailed and more insightful thoughts later, but in short: “Wildness” is a complex, multifaceted, challenging, poetic album, with just enough catchy singles to draw you in, and more than enough content to keep the serious fan listening again and again.
Oh, and I recommend the deluxe album, with alternate acoustic versions of several of the singles. They may be even better than the regular album version.
Amazon link here.