Gary Lightbody, the court jester of stadium rock, wrestles with his demons and comes up grinning on Snow Patrol’s comeback album
It’s been a long, hard road for Gary Lightbody. He’s back in his day job as front man of Snow Patrol after seven years spent trying to relocate his poet’s heart amid the wreckage of drink and drug abuse, and depression.
He also suffered writer’s block, a very big deal for a man with Lightbody’s literary and lateral approach to songwriting. By his own admission, he’s also got an inbuilt self-destruct button; there’s always been a sense that when the Bangor native finally got the fame and success he craved, he couldn’t handle it or perhaps handled it with too much gusto.
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Listening to the curative and cinematic Wildness, the singer Rolling Stone magazine once called "an anxious rock god" seems reborn after therapy, acupuncture and the meditative martial art of qigong. He’s also quit LA and is living back in the only slightly less glamorous surrounds of his hometown.
What all this means is that Snow Patrol’s first album since 2011’s rather uninspiring Fallen Empires is a collection of songs both deeply personal and profoundly universal. There is much to enjoy. Soon, a moving tribute to Lightbody’s ill father, marries real emotion with the kind of expansive music that ushered the band into the mainstream in the early noughties while Heal Me and Empress, are propelled by marital drumming and strong melodies.
The band’s forays into dance and electronic always seemed more inspired by fashion than art and thankfully there is something much more earthy and organic going on here.
There’s a real sense of clear-eyed clarity and understanding (and hints of The Blue Nile) on opening track Life on Earth, while the euphoric Wild Horses hits a real groove as Jonny Quinn whacks out some superbly sparse but explosive drumming.
The band’s forays into dance and electronica always seemed more inspired by fashion than art and thankfully there is something much more earthy and organic going on here. Stripped bare piano ballad What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get sees Lightbody stretch his always impassioned vocals into an unearthly Anohni style falsetto and the jumpy A Dark Switch has the same rhythmic subtlety and, indeed, chorus of a late period Bell X1 song.
It’s honest and poetic stuff but what Snow Patrol’s comeback lacks is enough truly memorable tunes. Lightbody is seized by a new sense of urgency and his band have rediscovered their looseness and directness but it’s easier to admire than actually love this slightly flowery diary of personal recovery. Wildness doesn’t quite live up to its name.
Alan Corr @corralan