Snow Patrol is the sort of band that I think of fondly, but always seem to forget exactly how good their albums are. Final Straw got me hooked, Eyes Open had several great tracks, and A Hundred Million Suns became their first real album, where there was a true sense of everything fitting together. Each record had its highs, though I’d really hesitate to say that the band had quite lived up to their potential, until Fallen Empires. Perhaps there was a bit of over-planning on the other records, or maybe not enough, but this is the first to feel completely natural, and Snow Patrol songs are best when they are natural. The music unfolds and grows, finding space for every last scrap of creativity as personal and emotional lyrics spill from Gary Lightbody’s mouth. There’s a great atmosphere to this album, and I’m confident in saying that this is the best Snow Patrol record to date.
Opener “I’ll Never Let Go” builds from the nervous energy of a wavering synthesizer and free-flowing lyrics to a singalong melody, as guitar, bass, and drums add their individual flourishes. The female vocals add some nice contrast, and the instrumental parts are interesting and explorative. First released last year on an EP of the same name, “Called Out In The Dark” puts more emphasis on the vocals, while the sort of feel from the first track is continued through the instrumentation. The bass riff, while simple, has a lovable character, and the slight imperfections in Lightbody’s voice adds emotion and complements well the pretty falsetto bursts from the chorus. The first guitar-based track on Fallen Empires is “The Weight Of Love, which grows naturally to one of the more memorable choruses of the album. The driving piano, drum fills, and guitar outbursts keep the song moving, and the ending bass part is a lot of fun.
Single “This Isn’t Everything You Are” exemplifies everything that I love about this album, growing organically with lyrics that are personal, interesting, and emotional. The instrumental parts are well-layered and written with consideration to dynamic and texture, following the words and giving each part its due space. The string coda at the end completes the thoughts of the song and provides a good transition to the nostalgic “The Garden Rules,” which beckons back to younger days with longing and a bit of comforting sadness toward the thought of how “you will never know how much I love you so.” The varying vocal rhythms pairs well with the consistent instrumental parts, with strings swelling in and out and female vocals providing a great counterpoint to Lightbody’s voice.
The album’s title track is its most energetic offering, with an almost march-like feel about it, since the vocals are somewhat minimalist as the music around them builds, expands, and gains momentum. The imagery is wonderful, bringing to life “fallen empires and raging bushfires.” Almost four minutes in, a chant of “we are the light” begins, bringing a sense of some greater movement to the song. “Berlin,” with its lighter feel, serves as a breath of fresh air and break from the previous track. The comforting melody has the ability to be in your head for days. “Lifening” continues along the calmer path, with a simple guitar riff and piano chords opening the song alongside Lightbody’s voice. As strings enter toward the middle, they add a nice point of interest and balance out the track by adding another layer.
The beginning of “New York” puts the emphasis on the lyrics through simple piano chords and an ambient atmosphere, continuing to build as the song continues. Though it’s not a bad song, it’s not quite as memorable on the whole, though certain lines certainly are memorable on their own. “In The End” has some of my favorite parts of the album, particularly the lead-in the second chorus and the line “in the end, there’s nothing more to life than love, is there?” The bridge is also great. “Those Distant Bells” combines good guitar parts with interesting piano and string bits and flowing melodies to create an atmospheric track that, though perhaps not the most memorable song, adds a nice touch to Fallen Empires.
The first half of “The Symphony” has a great chorus, particularly when the backing vocals come in the second time through. Though the longest song on the record, the instrumental portion near the middle gives the track variety and prevents it from feeling as though it drags. The repeating line “if this is all you ever ask for, then this is all you’ll get” for the last minute or so is another of my favorites from the album, and the closing instrumental bit is also a pretty interesting listen. “The President” belongs in a movie, perhaps in some emotional montage of two people crying over the loss of something they once had. It’s a moving piece of writing, from both a lyrical and musical standpoint. Though the album could have easily ended either with the proper portion of “The President” or the background noise that fills nearly the last minute of it, the interestingly-named “Broken Bottles Form A Star (Prelude)” closes Fallen Empires with a wonderful piano-and-strings-based instrumental movement. For the album’s sake, the piece is unnecessary, but still worth a listen, since it’s a great piece of music.
I’ve been a fan of Snow Patrol for years, and I would find it difficult to place any of their other records above this one. It’s organic nature fits the band’s sound perfectly, as the words come in an almost spontaneously planned fashion, while every element has room to grow, explore, and fulfill its own potential. Some might find the repetition of certain lines to get tiring, but I feel that Lightbody simply makes the most out of the words, coaxing melodies out of the way the words sound. If the U.S. release date matched the European one, this album could have easily found a home on my year-end list. It album shows a lot of maturity, while still holding true to what Snow Patrol is. The strong presence of strings, piano, and female vocals gives Fallen Empires a layered sound, with small parts jumping out throughout the course of the record to catch your attention. Rather than a collection of songs, it is a cohesive body of work, well worth a few close listens.