Gary Lightbody has always been able to write and record anthemic pop-rock songs with dramatic crescendos and giant hooks. That’s why the first couple of Snow Patrol records had the feel of an indie-pop band capable of much bigger things. And why the Irish band broke through in the mid-’00s with a mega-hit single (“Chasing Cars”) and a couple of solid albums (Final Straw, Eyes Open) that earned them comparisons to U2 and Coldplay. And why Lightbody scored a duet and co-write on Taylor Swift’s 2012 album Red. Simply put: the guy knows what he’s doing.
And somehow, Snow Patrol has been around for 25 years now, enough time to release seven full-length albums, even with an extended hiatus since the release of 2011’s half-hearted venture into electro-pop, Fallen Empires.
Which means the band’s new album, Wildness, is a revival of sorts, one that finds Snow Patrol sonically reinvigorated and searching for meaning and connection in our cluttered modern age. “Shouldn’t need to be so fucking hard,” Lightbody sings in “Life On Earth,” the album’s opener and the first towering chorus in a parade of towering choruses. “This is life on Earth.”
Throughout Wildness, Lightbody plays the role of world-weary enlightener and encourager against his band’s sparkling, beat-heavy songs. “Heal Me” is particularly successful, because its verses are a compelling collision of acoustic strum and glitchy electronics, and its chorus is positively heart-swelling. “Empress,” too, is a winner thanks to its urgent pace, its incandescent chorus and its hopeful message: “You don’t feel like an outcast anymore,” Lightbody sings as toms thunder and backing vocals flutter, “and something deep inside of you has wakened.”
Snow Patrol takes its foot off the gas a couple times, each a highlight of Wildness. First is a stark voice-and-piano ballad called “What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get?” that sounds like it could swell into something Swift-ready, but it never does, choosing instead to lay low and stay real. Then comes “Soon,” a heartbreaking song for Lightbody’s father, who suffers from dementia. It is tender and resigned and uninterested in the grandeur of a typical Snow Patrol song. As a result, it bores deeper into real human feeling than usual — which for Lightbody, is saying something.
Wildness isn’t perfect; there are a couple of tunes that don’t quite fit in. The stuttering electro-acousti-funk of “A Dark Switch” and “Wild Horses” reflect the influence of new-ish member Johnny McDaid (who co-wrote and produced all over Ed Sheeran’s ÷), but on an album powered by earnest introspection, they feel out of place.
But those are minor blemishes on what otherwise is a strong comeback album for Snow Patrol that proves Lightbody’s still got it. Now, though, his hooks are weathered a bit by life and loss and struggle. Snow Patrol was always the kind of band that could stand to lose a little of its luster anyway.