Deep thoughts about Snow Patrol.

I am forced to begin with the fact that I began my descent into a Snow Patrol-shaped spiral by confusing them with the Arctic Monkeys. Steve Hyden posted a review of the new Arctic Monkey’s record, so — not bothering to read the review (I did eventually) — I went and listened to it, and the record was bad (whiny, boring) but also reminded me that of the two bands with snow and or cold-themed names, Snow Patrol was the one I liked.

It also reminded me of the time I confused the Happy Flowers with the Happy Mondays. For those of you wondering how the fuck I made that mistake: I was 12 and getting my British music news in stolen five minute bursts spent among periodicals while my parents were looking at videos in Tower Records. It took me three decades and reading Stuart Maconie’s Cider with Roadies to realize what had happened. In 1988 I listened to the copy of I Crush Bozo they brought me, after much pleading, exactly one time in a state of horrified paralysis and then was too embarrassed to tell them I hated it or to try and figure out what I had actually wanted. I still haven’t listened to anything by the Happy Mondays. Maybe I should see what they have on YouTube.

Anyway: I fired up YouTube and began my tour of Snow Patrol’s back catalog and — yes, I know they are a world famous rock band — but damn they really did put out at least four albums worth of absolute bangers.

By “bangers” in this case I mean songs you can enjoy lying on your bed in the dark contemplating your ceiling and/or the infinite as well as squashed into a crowd of thousands of your sweaty and overjoyed best friends, joyfully singing along. If you have, somehow, missed out on Snow Patrol until now: there are velvety shoegaze textures mixed with pop shimmer and rock n’ roll guitars; occasionally they digress into smooth jazz. Gary Lightbody modeled his lyrical style on the poems of Seamus Heaney, and as much as Lightbody’s lyrics often sounds like a poet talking to himself, complete with digressions and repetition and parenthetical asides – this is, I assure you, part of the beauty and charm of the lyrics – more often than not he nails it, and gives textual flesh to both fleeting or lingering emotions and glorious, uncomfortable human truths.

For example: lines like on my knees I think clearer (Chocolate, Final Straw (2004). You either feel that in your marrow or you don’t, I guess. I did, when I heard it, in 2007, on the heels of the break-up that wrecked me in a subtle and specific way. But for me it was less about the kneeling and more about the rising. I had spent some time on my (metaphorical) knees, trying to surrender myself into something I was not to please someone else, but having failed to submit, my mind was clear, and I was ready to stand up.

Reflecting on that particular break-up some more, and also on the work of Snow Patrol in conversation with other contemporary arena rock bands: What is because the daylight seems to want you / just as much as I want you (Crack the Shutters Open Wide, A Hundred Million Suns, Snow Patrol, 2008) but the manic antecedent to the lacering depressive reflection of I thought I loved you / but it was just how you looked in the light (Hum Hallelujah, Infinity on High, Fall Out Boy, 2007).

After that aforementioned wrecking ball of a break-up I spent a chunk of my thirties photographing rock n’ roll bands – though not, unfortunately, Snow Patrol – guided only by stage lights, and thinking a great deal about love and light and cameras. The camera loves nobody, but the person behind it does, and the person being photographed knows the loving gaze, and blossoms beneath it. This can be both more and less true in concert photography. At the end of my time in the pit I realized I had made a career (of a kind) out of capturing phoenixes rising from a variety of ashes, and faith (in love, in rock and roll, in whatever you want to call the redemptive and destructive alchemy of pop stardom) was required on both sides of the barrier. You gotta know I love you now, in this light how could I not? (I Think of Home, Reworked, 2019)

Personal resonances aside, I remember most of my favorite Snow Patrol songs through the prism of the stories I wrote while I was listening to them, and the characters they helped me find. You never really know what will unlock the door and make the words fall out, but for me, for a while, it was Chocolate and Disaster Button and You’re All I Have. More recently it’s been Don’t Give In and Take Back the City and Heal Me. I’m still learning the new(er) records, but I’m sure there will be more.

On  the subject of the new(er) records, The Fireside Sessions (2020), Reworked (2019) and Fallen Empires (2011) are as good or better as anything that came before them. The Fireside Sessions is a product of the pandemic, and has a distinct chill-out slow-jam vibe that goes along with being penned up in the house for months at time. In the case of Reworked, as the title indicates, Snow Patrol is making something new out of something old, with new arrangements of old favorites, and a couple of new tunes that bridge nostalgia and renewal. Fallen Empires is an extended meditation on mortality and a rally cry for survival all at once.  For example: A Youth Written in Fire is about accepting the joys and indignities of maturity and/or middle age; Soon taps into the well of grief that is your parents starting to fade out of the world.

On the subject of survival: Gary Lightbody and I are nearly the same age (I’m a year older) and it brings me no small joy that he looks it. He’s got gray hair and wrinkles and exudes a general air of rumpled distraction. Going through their back catalog on YouTube means I watch him age in reverse order, which means I get to see how much he’s relaxed and grown into himself.

The thing with Gen X is that so many of our idols died. As such I treasure every gray hair on Keanu Reeves’ head, and on Gary Lightbody’s as well. I rejoice that Snow Patrol has the time and space to both revisit past works and create new ones, because “alive and making music” is often a more monumental achievement  for musicians in their mid-40s than it seems it would be when you are, to quote them, “a child of 25.”

Sample concerts: Baloise, 2019; and TRNSMT 2021:



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