Tired Pony is the sound of Snow Patrol morphing into an alt-country monster at the stroke of midnight, with all the conviction of a Minus 5 knockoff that stepped in a bear trap and is now lumbering through the forest of fruit trees planted by latter-day Son Volt. It’s the impression of deep things occurring; music with a dark and moody intent that sounds, at best, even-keel. The rest of the time, a deliberate weariness won’t go away. And The Place We Ran From is this conglomerate’s debut album. Are brooding acoustic folk bands supposed to sound this lethargic right out of the starting gate? Tired Pony indeed.
Originally realized as a side-project for Snow Patrol co-founder Gary Lightbody to explore his more acoustic, roots-based side, Tired Pony gradually grew to include big names such as Scott McCaughey, Jacknife Lee, and Peter Buck, as well as Lightbody’s less visible cronies like Iain Archer, Richard Colburn, and Troy Stewart. The Place We Ran From also features Zooey Deschanel from She & Him, Tom Smith from the Editors, and M. Ward from Monsters of Folk — pack your umbrella, because names are dropping. Through this mess, Tired Pony is pretty much Lightbody’s show. As far as those providing backup, they could be just about anybody. You wouldn’t have ever guessed that McCaughey and Buck were involved if no one brought it to your attention. These songs are more vehicles for desperado lyrics readymade for female vocal accompaniment, and it often feels like Tired Pony never aspired to anything more.
There are stabs of stepping outside of this box. “Dead American Writers” sounds an awful lot like Lightbody’s usual day job, but the catchy, brisk tempo, and high-hanging lead guitar help make it a welcome diversion to the rest of the album. It’s only two-and-a-half minutes though, and your next course of the meal is “Held in the Arms of Your Words”, a total kitchen-sink muddle that crams too many instruments into six freaking minutes. The mounting vocal tracks intentionally avoid matching up because that kind of thing is, you know, cool.
In all fairness, Lightbody still knows his way around a sticky melody enough to transform it into a hook, as on “Get on the Road”, “I Am a Landslide”, and to a lesser extent, “That Silver Necklace”. Tired Pony’s problem is that most of these songs didn’t go beyond the stage of coming up with a decent little brain worm. They sound like lyrics matched to jams, or maybe the other way around, creating an overall impression that is as vague and unconvincing as the album’s title.
Supergroups don’t have the greatest track record since they tend to get dragged down by the weight of all egos involved. Tired Pony, however, has a distinct lack of ego that robs it of edge and warts. Despite all of the names involved, the only personality that shines through is Gary Lightbody’s, reluctant being the benevolent dictator that Tired Pony needs. Without it, they are just a few clops away from being a, ahem, dead horse.