Snow Patrol — a group known as a notable provider of reliably hummable and breezy rock — returns from a nearly seven-year hiatus with an album whose thematic scope is undermined by its conventional sound.
Gary Lightbody, the frontman of Snow Patrol, describes Wildness as a product of his long-lasting struggle with depression, alcohol use and self-doubt — all of which were exacerbated when Lightbody’s father was diagnosed with dementia.
The new album is intended to be a personal exorcism of these pent-up demons and a way of letting go of the uncertainties that haunted the frontman in the past. While Lightbody’s ambitions are indeed noble, and while his personal struggles do provide an emotional anchor for the album, Wildness is brought down by Snow Patrol’s inability to take experimental detours with its compositions.
Instead of highlighting the ”primal” and amorphous connectivity that the band sought to attain, Wildness progresses more like a rough draft of a tritely written autobiographical journal.
The album starts off with a track that successfully taps into the “primal” energy Snow Patrol was going for. “Life on Earth” benefits from the spotlight it gives to each and every sound, whether it’s Jonny Quinn’s understated drum work or Lightbody’s softer utilization of his baritone. The track demonstrates the band’s ability to pull off effortless lyrical imagery, sprinkling in catchy instrumental choreography for good measure.
For a while there, it does seem that Snow Patrol will be able to pull off its sweepingly broad message of love and interconnectedness. But banality soon seeps in with “Don’t Give In,” a four-minute descent into soapy McNuggets of inspiration commonly found on motivational Pinterests. Snow Patrol places such a dominance on the vocals of “Don’t Give In” that the guitar and the drums in the mix don’t seem to matter.
The vocals themselves are hampered by the band’s inability to package the lyrics into the kind of delicate and bare-bones rhythm that suited “Life on Earth.” As a result, these lyrics sound more like the kind of advice that would be given by the token supporting characters on those CW superhero shows, with the clichéd accompaniment to match.
The rest of the album largely goes for rote, formulaic pop-rock that is indistinguishable from the offerings of other alternative rock bands. “Empress” possesses a chorus that’s lyrically cynical but rhythmically upbeat enough to be unironically used during the prom dance of a coming-of-age drama. “What If This Is All the Love You Ever Get?” is little more than the dreary and overlooked middle child of “A Thousand Years” and “To Build a Home.”
Even in the face of these exercises in unoriginality, there is a kind of poetic transcendentalism to the messages imparted by “Life and Death” and “Soon.”
While overly long, “Life and Death” benefits from its effective use of a fast tempo that captivatingly sounds as if it is speeding toward something. The lyric “But why would you need to know the end, my dear?” summarizes the band’s intent with “Life and Death” — instead of hurtling toward the end as the tempo does, listeners should take a moment and soak everything in. Here, Snow Patrol’s proficiency in linking form to function in a melodious enough package is a definitive highlight of the album.
“Soon,” too, scrapes by because of the effort that Lightbody packs in. There are better songs for a good, nostalgic cry, but one would be hard-pressed to find something as personal as this. The slow pace and the familiarly downbeat riff as well as the allusions to Lightbody’s father help this track stick its landing.
Overall, Wildness does include glimpses of depth married to an evocative, thematically resonant sound. These glimpses unite the personal crucible of the Snow Patrol frontman with memorable instrumental performances. Yet these fleeting moments aren’t enough to save the album from feeling too self-indulgent and formulaic for its own good.
Contact Arjun Sarup at [email protected].