Friday, December 30, 2011

we would chase ourselves until the sun forgot to shine

The Top 10 Albums of 2011

3. Snow Patrol - Fallen Empires (bedshaped)

For me, Snow Patrol have always been a consistently good band. The brilliant Eyes Open was a particular favourite of mine, being responsible for the wonderful ballad that was Chasing Cars and the gorgeous Set The Fire To The Third Bar. I have to admit, I think I’d kinda written them off as a good band, but a band that would never amount to anything near what they deserved. A bit like how I felt about Elbow, before they exploded, got over-exposed and produced a piss poor follow up to one of my all time favourite albums.

In my opinion Snow Patrol have smashed it this time. This really is a great, great album. They usually fare better with their ballads, and even though they have the lovely Lifening, the stunning The Garden Rules and the radio-play smash This Isn’t Everything You Are, there’s much more to hear on this collection. The more uptempo songs have the makings of classic songs, and there’s a few scattered here and there that build and build into those crashing anthemic songs that bring to mind stadiums filled with singalong fans. Yes, they are touching Coldplay territory here, but delivering it in a much more.....well, a much more mature and convincing way. As if these songs may have begun life as a simple piano driven ballad, and through growth and experimentation, developed into a huge wall of instruments, chanting, chanting. These songs don’t feel forced or primed, they feel natural.

Lead singer, Gary Lightbody has such a lovely, warm voice. His Irish accent drips through on his vocals, particularly in the ballads and I can’t help but feel drawn to him. Warming to him like he’s the nicest person in the world, right now. A strange feeling. His accent only helps with his emotional delivery and you find yourself believing every damn word he sings. He undoubtedly comes into his own when singing the ballads. This is where it feels like his heart is.

Snow Patrol are treading some new territory on this album. The instruments seems to be mixed much better, and I hear looping, programming beats and lines and even some electronic slipping in. But, it’s all quite subtle and they don’t seem to stray too far from their ‘sound’. For the rockier and more epic tracks; pounding drums provide the foundations for some great thumping bass, and some of the guitar work is wonderfully ambitious. For the more mellow tracks; piano or acoustic guitar tends to lead the way, with Gary spinning his stories alongside . The tracks that stand out the most to me, are the ones that cleverly and quite neatly blend the two styles together. To say some of these gigantic rock-ballads are epic is selling them short. If Snow Patrol can do one thing well, it’s produce a mighty fine ballad of mahoosive proportions. These songs almost demand vast stadiums to be performed in.

Listen to – The Garden Rules

3. Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys! (Swisslet)

Following up an album as good and as successful as The Seldom Seen Kid was always going to be a bit of a struggle, wasn’t it? Apparently not for these boys. Look, I’ll be honest with you: I bought this record as soon as it came out, but it took several months for it to take hold. I didn’t think it was a bad record or anything, it’s just that it didn’t grab me immediately and instead took several months before I realised that it had wormed its way underneath my skin.

It wasn’t until I heard Lippy Kids on the radio one day that I realised that they’d bloody well done it again. Listening to those lyrics, I realised that there can’t be many lyricists around with Guy Garvey’s gift for exuding warmth and humanity, even when he’s singing about kids hanging around in bus shelters. Build a rocket boys! I can’t think of another lyricist with such a gift for bringing a lump to my throat and making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Seeing them live at Glastonbury sealed the deal: another gorgeous singalong with nearly 100,000 people singing their hearts out. We were eating out of the palm of Garvey’s hand and well he knew it. I was crying like a baby by the end. Brilliant. All of their albums have taken a little while to grow on me, actually, and much though I love The Seldom Seen Kid, my favourite remains Leaders of the Free World. I’m not sure that I would say that this record represents progress, as such, but it does surely demonstrate that the success of their last record was not a fluke. The Birds, Lippy Kids, Neat Little Rows, High Ideals, Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl…. There’s not a bad song on here. Success has been a long time coming, but boy do they deserve it.

Listen to - Lippy Kids

3. Noah and the Whale - Last Night On Earth (LB)

It's been a strange journey for me and Noah and the Whale. I bought their debut album Peaceful The World Lays Me Down mainly for my missus, seeing as she liked the jaunty (but frankly quite annoying) breakthrough single Five Years Time. Having become quickly bored by the tedious ukelele and chirpy, folky jauntiness I almost immediately wrote them off.

Then, one day, bored at home I decided to listen to their follow-up album The First Days Of Spring. And immediately listened to it again. And again. And again. It was, and remains, one of the most beautiful albums ever committed to CD - melancholy but utterly beautiful.

So, buying the band's third album Last Night On Earth was always a bit of a no-brainer. This time, however, the band seem to have adopted neither a folk nor a beautiful orchestral approach, going for the sort of sound you'd perhaps expect to hear on a sunny American freeway with the top of your Cadillac down and your hair blowing in the Arizona wind.

And, on the whole, it works. Last Night On Earth seems to broadly be telling the tale of the band's origins - songs refer to their early days performing in school assemblies and them getting out of their small provincial towns 'promising they would never go back' and whilst it's not the most original record ever made, it is one of the most entertaining.

The songwriting is of the highest quality here with radio friendly singles L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N, Life is Life and the brilliant Tonight's The Kind Of Night particular highlights. Whether they have sold out in favour of more commercial success is another question, but for now it's simply a great record.

One caveat, though - don't expect it to be brilliant live. Having seen the band this autumn I was immensely disappointed. They can't recreate their sound live on stage and so their show lacks charisma and power. It's a very wet reproduction of some great material and ultimately rather a waste of time.

Buy the record instead. It really is rather good.

Listen to - Tonight's The Kind Of Night

3 Discussions:

Blogger bedshaped said...

Aah, I really liked the Noah & The Whale album. Yes, good choice. A very enjoyable album.

Ohhhhh mannnnnnn. I love Elbow sooo much. I struggle to think of any song from any of their albums, that would lean me towards the 'skip' button. Guy....well, he's just an amazing poet.
But this album....Man, I've struggled so much with it. I can happily listen to it, and enjoy it, but I can't help feel that's it's their weakest album by far. The Seldom Seen Kid is such a mahoosive album to follow. And with this album, I feel like they've tried too hard. And as such, produced a good album, but by Elbows standards, average.
Maybe, like you Swiss, it will just click into place one day. I do hope so.

8:47 PM  
Blogger swisslet said...

my favourite elbow album remains "Leaders of the Free World", so go figure!

10:12 PM  
Blogger LB said...

An average Elbow album is still way better than almost anything else though, bedshaped?

Interesting what you say about Snow Patrol by the way. I was going off them the last time I saw them live (and that show didn't help) and then when I heard the first single off this album I really didn't like it at all, so gave up.

Perhaps I was a wee bit hasty?

10:26 PM  

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