Supergroups are nothing new - and in recent years something to approach with caution. Jack White and Josh Homme can make it work, and so it seems can Gary Lightbody. Tired Pony brings together talent from Snow Patrol (Lightbody and Iain Archer), Belle & Sebastian (Richard Colburn) and R.E.M. (Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey) and début album, The Place We Ran From, proves that it is a worthwhile and relevant project. Lightbody wanted to make a 'country' album, and this is definitely the feel and mood of the band's introduction but follow-up The Ghost Of The Mountain is something quite different.
Claims by some that The Ghost Of The Mountain is just another Snow Patrol record are obviously absurd. Lightbody is the ever-present front-man, and his voice is both distinctive and familiar, but it is the continued contribution from Archer, Colburn and Buck that move the group up from the obvious style of their beginnings into a more established sound. Now, Tired Pony has its own identity. That said, it is amazing how the presence of an ex-guitarist from a now disbanded group can bring so much of his past into the present. Peter Buck (and to an extent, McCaughey) breaths the spirit of R.E.M. into this album as much as Lightbody brings his vocals. The effect is wonderful.
From the delicate opener I Don't Want You As A Ghost, deftly blending cool vocals with sublime guitars, and the pop-styled brilliance of I'm Begging You Not To Go, to the hard-hitting stomp of Blood, The Ghost Of The Mountain impresses from the start. The latter recounts a struggle to keep a relationship going, expletives and all; superb, honest and heartfelt song-writing. The Creak In The Floorboards continues the form, a more straight-forward and hopeful love-song. 'You know what I'm looking for now... coz I sure don't', Lightbody croons. It is clear now that this is still Americana, but a lot closer to the sounds of the individual contributors. A gorgeous vocal brings the song to a finish.
The best guitar-work on the album is the magnificent All Things All At Once - a dark, brooding country waltz ('I will love you better than him...', is the stirring refrain, mixed with wordless choral vocals. Great instrumentation frames Wreckage And Bone - more folk than country as Tired Pony return to their roots for 'Act II'. Lightbody excels delivering the sort of fractured melancholy vocal that Chris Martin can only dream of, and again, his song-craft shows why he won an Ivor Novello.
The Ghost Of The Mountain diversifies in the second half, with interesting results. The Beginning Of The End breaks the formula somewhat and is two songs mashed together with some odd arrangements, while Carve Our Names is a smooth ballad with Lightbody augmented by female tones. Ravens And Wolves is bombastic grandstanding, backed up with some excellent guitars, strings and cold piano, and Punishment is drum-driven sleek electro-pop. Definitely unexpected, but not a massive departure.
The icing on the cake is the beautiful title track; another gorgeous vocal arrangement, blending wordless choir with stark lyrics. Lightbody is in reflective, doubting mood and musically, this is the sound of a band who have been together for decades. Buck's guitar-work is (as always) incredible. To close, Your Way Is The Way Home is an understated finish with an emotive lyric within a perfect melody. It threatens to soar, stadium-bound, but stays firmly on the ground, Lightbody stepping aside to let Kim Popper bring the song and the album to a close.
The key to Tired Pony and The Ghost Of The Mountain is songwriting and commitment from all involved. You bring together talent and that is what you get, all controlled and focused with no egos to keep in check or dismiss. This may be Lightbody's dream but the band deliver at every turn - and, while not members of the band, Minnie Driver, Bronagh Gallagher and Kim Topper add some light vocal touches. The sound is very comfortable and established; often safe ground (no massive guitar solos or eight-minute sonic-string orchestras here) but this is exactly what everyone is good at - mature, accomplished songs, elegantly produced.