is the sixth studio album from Snow Patrol, a band who have sold over 11 million albums and been responsible for some of the most instantly recognisable songs in the past decade, including "Run", "Chocolate" and "Chasing Cars". Former albums have been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, Grammys and MTV Europe Music Awards, with Final Straw
landing the band an Ivor Novello Award in 2005.
The album was recorded in the iconic The Joshua Tree National Park in south-eastern California. In October 2010, the band drove out into the desert with their guitars and one or two rough song ideas. A week later, their writing session at Rancho De La Luna Studios had laid the foundations of the tracks that would comprise Fallen Empires
. Over several months, the five piece--singer Gary Lightbody, guitarist Nathan Connolly, bassist Paul Wilson, drummer Jonny Quinn and keyboardist, Tom Simpson--began a musical road trip around California. They recorded tracks at Eagles Watch, a topsy turvy house in Santa Monica with widescreen windows and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Backing vocals were drawn from the LA Inner City Mass Gospel Choir in Compton, south central LA. Later, tracks were mixed at the studio owned by longterm collaborator, Garret "Jacknife" Lee--a hacienda tucked away in Topanga Canyon, the one time hippy commune and former home to Neil Young and Woody Guthrie.
Along the way, R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, US singer Lissie and Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist, Troy Van Leeuwen all popped by to lend a guitar part here, a lyric idea there. Meanwhile, Snow Patrol's new adventures seeped into every note on Fallen Empires
. The result is an album that promises to redefine the band as an altogether more ambitious, more expansive, creative force.
Snow Patrol’s sixth studio album is billed as a change in direction – but don’t get flustered. While Fallen Empires contains a few new musical tricks, it would be an exaggeration to label this a revolution in sound.
Snow Patrol are often mentioned in the same breath as Coldplay, and it’s not surprising: both bands grew up with U2 dominating their horizons, and both have been inspired by their gutsy, catchy pop. Fallen Empires betrays this love of U2, and in particular their 1991 LP Achtung Baby: in come synths, thrusting bass lines and a hint of electronica. The opening pair of songs here – I’ll Never Let Go and Called Out in the Dark – wear this influence on their sleeves readily.
The trouble is that these two songs are flimsy at best. Called Out in the Dark is the lead single, yet is a pure mistake of style over substance: a song that has the traditional Snow Patrol shape, dominated by Gary Lightbody’s vocal, but where the guitars have been binned just for the sake of it, just to try something ‘new’. It sounds too try-hard and trite.
Get these cuts out of the way, though, and Fallen Empires settles down and improves. Yes, the title-track is pure Bono and company, but now there is passion and conviction in the delivery, Snow Patrol allowing a propulsive rhythm to burgeon and turn threatening. The piano-led ballads arrive, and the band relaxes: this is their forte. This Isn’t Everything You Are, The Garden Rules and Those Distant Bells are indisputably great pop songs, full of sparkle and warmth.
Best of all, however, are the moments when Snow Patrol blend the two approaches together, combining their own aesthetic with an Achtung Baby adoration. New York and In the End are the massive, sweeping songs that form the heart of Fallen Empires. These are the songs you can envision in the stadiums; the songs that show Snow Patrol could just as easily be as big as Coldplay and, yes, U2. It’s here where Fallen Empires nails it, and where their fans will start drooling. --Mike Haydock
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