album review ~ tired pony ~ 'the ghost of the mountain'

With a full year out (a hero's welcome in the shape of T-Vital aside) to gather his thoughts and reconnect with the subtle craft of songwriting, Northern Ireland's beacon of hope Gary Lightbody announced the release of his supergroup Tired Pony's second album  'The Ghost of the Mountain'. Far from suffering the dreaded 'Second album syndrome', "Ghost" see's this Tired Pony begin to stretch it's legs, as a piece of work that reinforces Lightbody's position as one of the worlds most gifted songwriters. Taylor Johnson had a listen...

The album opens in stunning subtly, a simple synthesized intro coupled with the most delicate of country guitar slides, which drifts into Lightbody's serene and heartfelt vocals. Unusually high for the Snow Patrol frontman, it shows his eagerness to give Tired Pony it's own unique identity. Right from the off the simplicity and striking fragility of the lyrics are as breathtaking as they are heartbreaking. 'Well I want you as you are, not some collapsing star'  Lightbody croons. Yet it's the chorus that is the most wondrous. 'I don't want you as a ghost, I don't want you as a fading light, I don't wanna be the weight you carry, I just wanna be the man you come home too'. Vivacious, emotive and searingly honest. It's Lightbody at his best, and his band don't sound too bad behind him either. The mellow vibe suits the almost cracked vocal delivery. What also becomes apparent is there is a running theme throughout the album, one that has been alluded to in recent Snow Patrol songs such as 'Lifening', and that is Lightbody's desire to reconnect with the carefree spirit he possessed growing up. It's as if he wants to forget about the pain and suffering that goes hand in hand with growing up and delve back into the endless freedom of childhood. 'The kids that we once were, they wouldn't know us now...'. Stunningly performed and incorporating a brass section towards the end of proceedings adds a different dimension. There's also an incredible guitar solo from R.E.M's Peter Buck. A beautiful introduction.

'I'm Begging You Not To Go' follows a similar vibe as the opener, with a lighter over coat. A catchy and light solo bubbles over the verses and works fantastically in the chorus. Again, Lightbody's stunning lyrics elevate the track to a new level. A captivating chorus, filled with impeccably executed backing vocals, is decorated with heart warming stories and again it is the simplest couplets which leave the lasting impression. 'Our shoes kicked off, side by side like they are dancing' is pure poetry. The band is sounding tight and brighter as a unit, with the darker shackles of expectation from 'The Place We Ran From' well and truly cast off it sounds like Tired Pony are no longer trying to prove anything to anyone other than themselves.

With a building choir like intro which bursts into a pulsating footstomping rhythm, 'Blood' marks the first change of pace in the record. It's also the first song to show the bitter side of Lightbody, his natural wit and evident frustration going hand in hand to perfectly remonstrate the pit falls of young love. 'It's alright, it's alright, a love like ours is easy it fuck! Is it fuck, I chopped through blood and bone for you'. If it came from the mouth of any other songwriter, it may be considered a poor attempt at self expression,  but through Lightbody's heartfelt delivery it's as tragic as the songs before it. The song builds to the type of chorus's Lightbody is now famed for mastering. Powerful, uplifting and as genuine as anything he's ever written. 'Blood' is a song that could so easily have been on Snow Patrol's third album 'Final Straw', a throw back to that era through the filter of a much wiser and considerate mind.

'The Creak in the Floorboards' begins with the type of palm muted guitar he built an empire around with Snow Patrol, the atmospheric density which surrounds it is a credit to producer Jacknife Lee. Again, a climactic chorus elevates the track to 'mass sing along status'. Bronagh Gallagher's stunning backing vocals in the chorus is simply intoxicating. 'Do You know what I'm looking for now? Cause I sure don't'.

Then comes the albums first single, the stunning 'All Things All At Once'. A track supposedly written in a drunken haze after a celebratory drinking session. With haunting vocal melodies, perfectly placed slide guitar to retain the folky nature of the album and lyrics that provide a reflection into the mind of Tired Pony's secretive frontman, it was an obvious choice for single. Again, Lightbody continues the metaphor of past glory, through a series of emotive and wonderfully written stanzas. 'These wings ain't for flying, these wings are just for show, it's been years since I've been flying, I am damned to the Earth'. Even the title, 'All Things All At Once', rolls sweetly off the tongue, but it is only through listening to Lightbody's ethereal delivery do you get a sense of the undercurrent of sadness on what is a powerful track.

'Wreckage and Bones' incorporates an intricate guitar intro, but perhaps the use of electronic drum beats means some of the soul of the song is perhaps buried underneath. 'The Beginning of the End' follows a similar formula, but with an electric guitar allowing the track to breath somewhat. It also see's the introduction of Ian Archer, who's distorted delivery works wonderfully and sweetly with Lightbody's creating a wonderful harmony. Unfortunately the chorus falls short of the captivating highs prominent earlier on and it would have been lovely to hear Archer's voice attempt the chorus. It's the first time on the record that you would struggle to distinguish between a Snow Patrol demo or a Tired Pony track.

'Carve Our Names' takes similar influences, though manages to present it in a gentler package. A song about 'carving our names into the ocean', here the band create a delicate story of simplicity and fun, yet you can't imagine it getting the strongest of live receptions. Lyrically sweet and certainly deep, but it never gathers the energy necessary to win them any new admirers. 'Ravens and Wolves' which follows, contains the delicate opening of a Sigur Ros track. With a chorus that blasts out from nowhere, 'Ravens and Wolves' show Tired Pony beginning to waken up. The contrast between verse and chorus could so easily be too contrasted, but instead it serves to the bands advantage, an unexpected gem in their ever growing arsenal. A crashing piano outro hits home like waves against a battered pier, a fitting end to a song which like a lighthouse ensured this album stayed on course.

After a bizzare, 80's styled intro (almost Echo and the Bunnymen-esque) 'Punishment' highlights a new direction for the band. Buck's heavier guitar riff blends uncomfortably into the background as a song which could have been a triumph of synthesized harmonies instead falls slightly flat. The most dedicated of Tired Pony fans may not be satisfied with this one, which may have hit the mark had it retained the acoustic format they're known for. This is followed by the title track, an example that electric and acoustic guitar can live in harmony under the right circumstances. More choir like vocals contrast some upbeat, rhythmic drumming as Tired Pony begin to get things together. The lyrical potency returns, 'You're the sweetest bitter end I could have hoped for' and 'I'm not a man, i'm just a shadow, just a fragment, just a ghost' glistening through.

The album ends with 'You're Way is the Way Home', a simple acoustic track highlighting the groups ability to bring together different elements to form a delicate conclusion. With subtle piano gliding in and out of the track, there's a slight feeling of Fallen Empires final track 'Broken Bottles Form A Star'. A beautifully melancholic ending to an album which stands to show that though this pony may be tired, it has no intentions of slowing down just yet.

Review by Taylor Johnson

Hear a preview of 'The Ghost Of The Mountain' here and keep up to date with Tired Pony news here.

Stand out tracks; 'I Don't Want You As A Ghost', 'Blood', 'All Things All At Once'

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