The side projects of internationally famous rock stars are very often worth a listen just for their sheer folly, but the name of this one promises nothing so entertaining - and rightly so.
Tired Pony are Gary Lightbody's brainchild, something he dreamt of doing while on the long haul around the States with his main band. It's a hastily convened combo, which includes REM's Peter Buck on mandolin, and, well, Belle & Sebastian's drummer, with the aim of pursuing the 'stadium-indie' singer's interest in alt-country. His favourites include, he says, "Wilco, Calexico, Lambchop, Palace, Smog - these bands that look at the darkness in America".
The opening Northwestern Skies sets the scene for method rustic desolation, with clumping percussion, acoustic strumming, and the wheezing of something accordion-like. Meanwhile, Lightbody moans of faint smiles, slamming doors and other harbingers of crumbling marriage, in the kind of circular song pattern instantly familiar from such Snow Patrol biggies as Chasing Cars.
Held in the Arms of Your Words, for one, recalls Wilco bleak-fests such as Via Chicago (i.e. Wilco before Jeff Tweedy got blissed-out on antidepressants), but by and large The Place We Ran From falls well short of the left-of-centre power and eerie intimacy of Lightbody's heroes' music. Instead, particularly on Point Me at Lost Islands and That Silver Necklace, our protagonist's innate talent for grand-scale, stadium-level songcraft takes over, hinting more towards a poor man's Springsteen, circa Nebraska.
Even if the hapless listener can circumnavigate the sense of cultural piracy in a Northern Irishman, however well travelled, attempting to replicate the middle-American social observation in Springsteen, or indeed Smog's Bill Callahan, the fact remains that this is a wet weekend of a record.
Lightbody lacks any of his idols' vocal charisma, which might bring these funereal songs alive - in fact, its best moments are Get on the Road, a duet with She & Him's Zooey Deschanel, and I Am a Landslide, which is sung by someone else entirely: Iain Archer. Lightbody's considerable talents, as a conduit for the mass musical experience, will be far better deployed, no doubt, on the next Snow Patrol album.