Formed in 2009, Tired Pony flew curiously below the radar for many given the prominence of its members, including Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, REM’s Peter Buck, Richard Colburn of Belle & Sebastian and notable Irish songwriter Iain Archer. Undeterred, the soft-rock supergroup return with a lovesick, sepia tinged second album that builds on their solid, though unremarkable, debut.
The album’s opener ‘I Don’t Want You As A Ghost’ sets the tone nicely, a strained ballad that sees Lightbody yearning for a lost love. ‘I’m Begging You Not to Go’ fits this colour-by-numbers pallet perfectly, though third track ‘Blood’ gives some desperately needed life to the album. A jaunty riff and some perfectly pitched backing harmonies alter a tone that was in danger of becoming quite stale. It reaches familiar territory at its climax though, familiar for Lightbody that is. “This is real, this is really happening”, he wails as the track wanders toward an almost inevitable stadium sized conclusion, though it is pinched back before it reaches this point. ‘The Creak in the Floorboards’ evokes Springsteen’s Human Touch and illustrates the fluidity and variety of the musicians involved.
With roots much closer to Americana, soft-rock and country music, the tone is rather different from much of the work that the collective have put out in their own projects in the past. Not entirely a departure, mind, with certain tracks evoking familiar surroundings, including ‘The Beginning of the End’, which may well have ended up on the cutting room floor from the sessions of the last Snow Patrol album. It seems, at times, to be a regression to an era that preceded the stadium rock superstardom that has rendered Gary Lightbody a household name – a number of tracks would feel right at home in a pre-Final Straw era Snow Patrol. At times, they come dangerously close to self-indulgent, but they ward off these issues for the most part. ‘Ravens and Wolves’ is indicative of this. It starts with a sloping, sorrowful vocal before bursting to life with the most prominent drumming the album enjoys at any stage.
On the whole, the album does not represent a real departure for anyone involved. There are moments of electro and gospel influence, but it maintains its bearings firmly in the foundations established on the band’s first record. Middle of the road and forgettable at times, there are moments of real brilliance too, such as the magnificent lead single ‘All Things All At Once’. Lightbody’s elegiac tone is effortlessly worn amongst a series of female driven harmonies, the track casting a nostalgic eye on past successes: “In those days we were lions, in those days we were kings”. Mournful and introspective, it illustrates the best of this band.
When they get it right, it really is a joy to behold. And at no point do they miss the target by such a distance to make the listener take note, but oftentimes it all just blends into one. A pleasant, though somewhat inconspicuous, wall of radio-friendly noise.