It’s been seven years since Snow Patrol last put out an album, explained by the band in part because of lead singer Gary Lightbody’s struggles with writer’s block, mental health, and alcoholism. It’s a long time for a band that used to put albums every two or three years like clockwork – long enough for the alt-rock landscape they once featured prominently in to change, and long enough that some are even touting it as a “comeback” album.
If you are a longtime fan of Snow Patrol, Wildness will probably appease you enough to forget about the long lapse in between releases. It features the same sort of emotional, sweeping songs that build until forever that most listeners have come to expect from the band, with a few tweaks here and there to their melodic heritage, what often sounds like subtle attempts to ease their way into the ‘80s electro-pop resurgence that is so pervasive on today’s charts (think drums that sound as if they were recorded in a cave, synth, that sort of thing). It’s clearly producer Jacknife Lee trying to update Snow Patrol’s sound for the end of the decade they nearly missed, and it’s integrated well enough that it doesn’t necessarily take away from the integrity of the songs.
Still, at the end of the day, Wildness disappoints. Despite a few standouts here and there, the entire album sounds tired and fails to reach any definitive point despite lofty claims on the rumination of passionate, primal connection and our loss of it. Lightbody never really manages to prove to the listener that his heart is in the lyrics he sings, with the exception of “Soon,” a song written for and about his father’s struggles with dementia. It’s the only song in which the words seem to match what he’s actually feeling, whereas most of the album finds Lightbody struggling to connect. I wondered several times over the course of the album if maybe seven years was even too soon for this release; writer’s block can be a bitch, and it’s not difficult to imagine many of these songs being forced to completion.
“Life on Earth” is classic Snow Patrol, although it never really builds to a place that feels completely satisfying. It does its job, however, reminding listeners why they liked this band in the first place. Both “Empress” and “Heal Me” attempt to as well, albeit in a more upbeat way. They feature the same persisting drum beat and electric guitars that in the past have made Snow Patrol’s songs stadium-friendly anthems, but again, never manage to recapture the band’s spark.
“Don’t Give In,” the first single released off of Wildness is a strange choice for Lightbody’s voice. The falsetto of the chorus transforms his smooth timbre into something gravely and strained. The same goes for “A Youth Written In Fire,” which begins with one of the most clichéd lines any song can ever feature, “Remember the first time we got high.”
“A Dark Switch” is completely out of place on the album, more electro-dance pop than introspective. It’s where the influence of newest member Johnny McDaid is most felt; McDaid, among many other accolades, famously co-wrote Ed Sheeran’s 2017 mega-hit, “Shape of You.”
“What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get?” is probably the brightest spot on the album. It’s a stripped back ballad with Lightbody lamenting to a simple piano melody, pretty and emotional, but still lacking. Oddly enough, Lightbody’s vocal performance on the alternative version of “What If this Is All The Love You Ever Get?” (featured on the deluxe version) comes off more evocative and the backing music more interesting than the album version.
This was the case with several of the alternative versions – especially vocally – which really makes you wonder what exactly happened between the recording process and the album’s release. It also makes you wonder, if a band has to release alternative versions of five songs on a 10 song album, are they really confident in the product and vision they’re putting forth?
The problem with Wildness, ultimately, is that it’s forgettable. The band shows very little growth, or originality, and despite a few bright moments never manage to escape feeling wearily formulaic and strangely unfinished. Comeback album this is not.