Snow Patrol exit comfort zone with electro beat
Labelled Coldplay-lite in the past, the band has made an ambitious album that is truly emotionally beautiful, says Barry Egan
THERE'S very few (if any) Irish bands who can play two nights at the 02 in Dublin and then three nights at the Odyssey in Belfast.
But Snow Patrol is such a group -- and justly so, as they have given us such classics as Chasing Cars (voted song of the decade in a Channel 4 poll) from Eyes Open, their beauty of an album from 2006 which sold sold two million copies in the UK and more than five million worldwide.
It is no wonder that the band's Bangor-born Gary Lightbody was handed Q Classic Song gong at the magazine's annual awards last year. In my humble opinion Fallen Empires, their sixth studio album, is more synthesisey than previous Snow Patrol records -- but it still shows that they are as good as ever, if not better.
Asked recently were there media cliches or buzzwords that the band were tired of hearing as a description of their music, keyboard player Tom Simpson had this witty reply: "Yeah, there is one -- and it's no slight against Coldplay because we know them and they're a great band -- but I hate it when people compare us to Coldplay because I don't think we sound like them. They do what they do, which is brilliant -- I think they're great, they're amazing live and not enough people give them their due for what they do -- but I just don't like being compared to them because I think we do something different from them."
This isn't a new comparison levelled at the Irish/Scottish five piece. As far back as 2008 the Telegraph's Neil McCormick was making the point that "British critics have, for the most part, not been kind, branding them Coldplay-lite -- which, given that Coldplay themselves are often portrayed as Radiohead-lite, is a particularly dismissive insult -- purveyors of safe, soft, coffee-table rock. It has been hard on Lightbody, an obsessive music fan."
The band's subsequent international success has surely lessened the pain for Norn Ireland demi-god Lightbody. Those critics, however, might have a bit more ammunition to throw at Snow Patrol given the electronic-sounding aura of their new album.
"Not all of the album is electronic," countered Snow Patrol's guitarist Nathan Connoly recently, "but there's a lot more than we previously have had. It's something that always has been part of our music -- certainly Gary and Tom are much more into electronic than the rest of us. We all listen to bands like LCD Soundsystem or even Phoenix that have that sound. We just wanted to let different types of music that influence us come out on their own and not concentrate on just one.
"This seemed like the right time to do it because it was all about trying new things and changing it up. It's been there in the past, maybe on Final Straw a little more, but in some albums it has been in the background, not necessarily upfront. It's fun to have songs that people can dance to."
There is, of course, more depth than just a good bop to Sound Patrol's music. "My songwriting is very simplistic," Lightbody once said. "What we do is melody and honesty, that's the core. I think the songs reach out as far as they do because people identify with it."
Fallen Empire is a much more ambitious, and broad-ranging record than Snow Patrol has ever attempted in the past, and it is sonically and emotionally beautiful for it.
"We wanted to make a massively ambitious record," Lightbody said recently.
"Arcade Fire's last record -- The Suburbs -- made us realise that we had to up our game. It was amazing. We decided that we wanted to make a record unlike any other we've made before.
"We started writing songs that were more playful, even rawer than before -- we were brave enough to do what we wanted, rather than what convention dictated. It was tough at times, we were out of our comfort zone, but I think it's given us a great album."
He's not wrong, you know.
Snow Patrol play The O2, Dublin Friday & Saturday, January 20 & 21; and Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Tuesday & Wednesday January 24 & 25