Gary Lightbody, as well as having a name that makes him sound like a plumber turned Jedi warrior, is the lead singer of Snow Patrol, a band most notable for having a song which was covered by Leona Lewis and made to sound more edgy in the process. Though the band’s songwriting team includes Iain Archer, you’d never finger Lightbody as the man most likely to form a supergroup. But his latest project, Tired Pony, can’t reasonably be described any other way.
Much of this is to do with the presence of Peter Buck, REM’s quiet ringmaster. There are, however, other names present on The Place We Ran From, the band’s debut record: Zooey Deschanel, no less, and Editors’ Tom Smith; Richard Colburn of Belle and Sebastian is present and correct, and Archer is onboard again, too; superstar product Jacknife Lee is also a member, and the line-up is completed by Scott McCaughey, Buck’s bandmate in their moonlighting gig with Robyn Hitchcock, and best known on his own for The Minus 5. How do you like those apples?
Well, I kinda like them OK. Listening to this record straight after The Suburbs was an object lesson in expectation management: Arcade Fire’s latest, which I roughed up a bit last week, is so far ahead of The Place We Ran From that it seems absurd to say anything nice about Tired Pony. The songs melt together in the same way, the tempo remains resolute with more stubborness, the melodies are at least as forgettable. By the same token, this record is actually better, not worse, than what went before in Lightbody’s oeuvre – there is grit and grain here where there is none in Snow Patrol’s output. So on ‘The Deepest Ocean There Is’, Lightbody’s plaintive vocals are interrupted by awkward bass; on ‘Get On The Road’, they are sharpened by Deschanel’s backing; and ‘Dead American Writers’ is the best indie anthem this year to feature bottleneck slide guitar.
Tired Pony probably lack, unlike Arcade Fire, the ability to rip pop music a new one. But what they do achieve is an album informed by music Lightbody expresses an appreciation for – country, 70s Californiana – and yet one which sounds entirely contemporary. If you compare this to similar efforts at homage by The Duke & The King, Alberta Cross, or even Deschanel’s own She & Him, it’s plain that Tired Pony have performed a not inconsiderable feat. Not revolutionary, then – but decent enough. And who expected that from Gary Lightbody?