The Northern Irish, Alternative band Snow Patrol has been off the popular musical radar since their 2011 release “Fallen Empires”. After seven years in hiatus, there were those who assumed that Snow Patrol had gone into early retirement, but their latest album “Wildness” proves that supposition false. The May 25th release is a testament to Snow Patrol only going dormant and now springing to life with more vigour and energy than ever. “Wildness” is a chronicle of what has transpired with the band members over the last seven years. That period has been filled with ups and downs and the release attempts to process what has transpired looking for clarity, connection and meaning.
Snow Patrol formed in 1993 at Dundee University with original founders Gary Lightbody, Michael Morrison and Mark McClelland. They would release their debut Songs for Polar Bears in 1998 which would result in a critical if not a commercial success. There would be two more releases and a changeup in both label and band lineups before for the band would attain worldwide acclaim with Eyes Open in 2006; driven by the blockbuster song Chasing Cars. The band would proceed to sell 15 million albums and collect 5 UK platinum designations. With the release of their 2011 album Fallen Empires, the band members elected to take a break in order to pursue numerous solo and collaborative interests. It was during this time band frontman Gary Lightbody would have to conquer a serious bout of writers’ block and watching his father succumb to dementia. That later event inspired the album’s motif of memory and the loss of memory. Many of the tracks closely examine the impact for the individual encountering that loss along with the effects on loved ones who not only spectators but fellow sufferers of the event.
Snow Patrol would begin working on Wildness, their seventh studio album, recording from 2016 to 2017. They elected to continue with Jacknife Lee at the helm for production. The band would eventually put aside a number of songs that had been previously intended for the new recording, opting instead for more recent songs written by Lightbody. Emerging themes for the songs would be an examination of wildness in both its understood ancient definition and a more modern age definition. The band examined the idea that in the past wildness was a primitive, brutal immediate thing, whereas now the idea of wildness could be defined as confusion, chaos and alienation. This idea is twinned with an overarching theme of memory.
On Wildness the first thing that becomes apparent is that Lightbody and Co are in a better head space than their usual burden of melancholia. This is unexpected realization as the themes are heavy. Even with the serious topics that are never far from the surface, there is brightness and energy that displays a reinvigorated band. The first track Life on Earth has a fantastic blending of Blues and Alt rock that starts on a minor key then builds into a dramatic stadium anthem. Extolled are the firsts of life and the highs and lows that are universally experienced that make up our time on Earth. The uplift of this song makes it a winning introduction to the album’s themes. Don’t Give In continues with that sentiment encouraging the listener to continue to fight the uphill battle which is everyday life. Most notable on the song is the apt sparse accompaniment that really flatters Lightbody’s gruff vocal delivery. Heal Me is a more mid-tempo rocker and probably the most instantly recognizable as a Snow Patrol song. Empress breaks from the introspection for a moment into an examination of childhood, Lightbody has stated the song is about his goddaughters, and how we are all self-absorbed tyrants as children until we grow up and realize our reign has passed. It is another trademark Snow Patrol track. The radio-friendly A Dark Switch is a bouncy song with much to love and continues the winning momentum of the release.
Extremely impressive is What if This is All the Love You Ever Get which is the lynchpin track of the release. This beautiful piano ballad is loaded with bittersweet earnestness as it discusses life’s journey and is inspired by Lightbody’s father’s struggle with dementia. The song dares to ask the imponderables taking the risk of getting maudlin but gets it just right. I really enjoyed A Youth Written In Fire with its R&B, Prince influences, the atmosphere created by the production is exceptional with an overall theme of “if I only knew then what I know now”. The haunting Soon returns to the theme of What if This is Al the Love You Ever Get and the central lyric “Soon you’ll not remember anything, but soon neither will I” which has a palpable poignancy that resonates. That lyric says it all when dealing with the tragic situation which is dementia, senility and Alzheimer’s. Where the spectre of that fate can be a scary prospect Snow Patrol delivers a certain comfort in confronting the possibility and realizing you have to make the best of the time you are given. Life and Death is the evocative ending to an album that asks the eternal hard questions that everyone is afraid to ask. The song attempts to capture the human story of the need for love and forgiveness, most especially forgiving one’s self. The selection is unafraid to ask these questions as the sonics lull the listener off into interstellar space.
Wildness is a welcomed return for Snow Patrol. The release shows the band delivering some of the most potent music of their career. Wildness is filled with strong songs and apt, engaging accompaniments. The production is excellent as it delivers the nuance ear required in order to not overpower the deeply personal lyrics that in themselves deliver massive impact. The threat with an album that deals with serious topics are that it collapses from the weight of the themes, but here the underlying energy in the music acts as a leavening agent that produces uplift. Wildness successfully ushers in the reemergence of Snow Patrol for a new era.