Gordon Lightbody wants you to know he hates Greatest Hits records, so don’t call Up To Now one. But for fans of the band who never heard the band prior to its two breakthroughs, Final Straw and Eyes Open, it’s intended to be a reminder that the band had a 15-year span of great music which, while perhaps not always hits, were at the very least “favorites” for those who heard them. So the band put its take on those favorites onto a double LP and set it out there for us so they could, as Lightbody puts it, “leave the last 15 years behind and look forward to fifteen years in the future.”
Okay, so that aside, is it an essential album? This critic would certainly say yes. Unlike most “greatest hits” affairs which add a slapdash single to make a handful of tracks you already own seem more palatable, this album carefully sequences three new songs into the mix, songs which are forward-leaning, suggesting the band’s future direction amid the retrospective.
The tracks from prior albums, including some from Lightbody’s other band, The Reindeer Section, are arranged thoughtfully rather than chonologically. It therefore becomes possible to hear older songs in a new light, enjoying just how much great music the band has produced while thinking about new directions they’ll be exploring in the new decade.
The new songs themselves are revealing. “Just Say Yes,” the first single, is perhaps their most radio ready. It’s already been used in movie trailers for the latest Amy Adams rom-com, and for fans who want more songs like “Hands Open” or “Chocolate,” it’s right there for you to enjoy. “Give Me Strength,” meanwhile, Lightbody tightly crafts another of his songs to employ an easily memorable and repeatable chorus over a melody of incredible simple construction, something mildly reminescent of the likes of Crowded House’s Neil Finn.
My favorite of the new tracks is “Dark Roman Wine,” however. The single opens with a bare synth melodic drone, which allows Lightbody’s voice to shine in its rawest sense, immediately drawing comparisons to Jars of Clay’s Dan Haseltine during the band’s exploratory albums of this past decade’s early years, very much also in the vein of the likes of “Golden Floor” from Snow Patrol’s 2008 album A Hundred Million Suns. The song builds carefully as Lightbody sings of the fragile nature of love, but keeps pulling back, as though afraid to reach something so cliched as a chorus and risk shattering all hope. When the song reaches its conclusion, there’s a palpable sense of release, of raw elemental beauty the likes of which you rarely find on something as banal as a “pop” album, let alone a “best of.” If this track is a symbol of the direction the band’s aiming for in the next ten years, I’ll be first in line.
Lightbody and Snow Patrol have been very successful when it comes to showing their vast collection of solid songs in the kind of setting that allows these songs, spanning a 15 year period, to sound as though they all appeared naturally on this album for the first time. That alone should make this a worthy purchase for the long time fan and the Snow Patrol neophyte alike.
Even for someone who has long appreciated the band for their strong sense of songcraft and attention to detail within albums, Up To Now reveals hidden layers within songs which, for all intents and purposes, should feel played out, yet here they sound brand new. If the band continues in this direction, it’s hard to fathom what great music could be waiting for us, whether it be on a new Snow Patrol album or on Grandson of Evil Reindeer. Either way, I’m hooked.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.