Gary Lightbody’s side projects are often much more interesting than his day job as front man of the increasingly Coldplay-lite of Snow Patrol. The pained pieties and soppy romanticism he displays in that band were given a sharper edge and wider scope in The Reindeer Section and on the first Tired Pony album.
Originally convened to fulfil Lightbody’s long-term ambition of making a country album, The Pony (as nobody calls them) are back with this far less countrified second outing. Former R.E.M. jangler-in-chief Peter Buck is back on board as is producer Jacknife Lee, and former Snow Patrol member Iain Archer, Richard Colburn of Belle and Sebastian and Troy Stewart. They're joined by guest vocalists Bronagh Gallagher and Minnie Driver, both better known as actressses but who can also sing very well too.
The Ghost of The Mountain has something of Snow Patrol’s earlier and much better albums and as a songwriter, Lightbody still has a sure-footed sense of melody, a way with a memorable hook, and a well-seasoned voice that knows its way around the hollow ventricles of a broken heart on these pleasant and unspectacular songs.
The mood is mostly downbeat and regretful but Punishment does cruise and spark with an onslaught of guitar and occasional electro interjections while on Blood, Lightbody even manages to drop the anguished poet shtick for a well needed dose of humour. The best song actually goes to Iain Archer for his great vocal on The Beginning of The End and there is the now obligatory duet with a female foil on Your Way is the Way Home on which Lightbody exchanges bittersweet memories with actress/singer Minnie Driver.
Quite how someone can “carve their names into the ocean”, as one song offers, is a good question. A better one is why can’t the hugely industrious and talented Lightbody apply the same relaxed sense of adventure to his work with Snow Patrol? Sleepy they may be but the quality of songs on Tired Pony’s second album certainly raises interesting issues about the constraints and demands of being in a successful stadium rock band.