2006 / Music

Review: Snow Patrol’s Latest Outshines Breakthrough

Alt-Rock Group Follows Up Top-Selling American Debut

The summer movie season is nearly upon us and it’s time for the movie-viewing public to get overloaded with canned hyperbole attributed to a parade of faceless, anonymous movie critics opining on all the big films.

Photo: A&M Records

Photo: A&M Records

Other than Oscar season, it seems the summertime — as the movie industry’s cash cow — is flush with these one-line descriptions spread over ads and posters. “The summer blockbuster of the season,” says Joe Smith from the Palookaville Star-Gazette. “A thrill ride. A virtual tour de force,” says Kurt Cobain of the Smallville Press. “Tell your friends, the romantic comedy of the year,” says Paddie McGillicutty of the Dinkytown Inquirer-Tribune. (Note: these names and papers have been changed to protect the guilty.)

Oddly, I find myself in a similar position when it comes to “Eyes Open,” the latest album by British Isles’ alternative-rock export Snow Patrol. Despite being as polished as any blockbuster, I can’t stop saying cliched, great things about it. This is for two reasons.

First, the band has seemingly done the near impossible. The group, which has its roots in Northern Ireland but coalesced in Scotland, has bested its American breakthrough, 2003’s “Final Straw” (They long ago earned support in the U.K. when their first album came out in the late ’90s, but it wasn’t until “Final Straw” was released in the U.S. that they began getting noticed in these parts). Faced with a challenge, the band has taken their formula for economical, power-pop and scrubbed the songs so as to brighten up the melodic hooks and remove any instrumental grit. The end result is song after song of near perfection.

Second, not only does this album outperform their last, the band’s new music eclipses most of what their competitors reveling in the New Wave revival have yet to come up with. Better than anyone of the new generation, they’ve refined ’80s college rock to suit mainstream ears. It appears Bono’s faith in the band — they opened several shows during U2’s tour last year — was well placed.

“Eyes Open” is essentially the product of a less ambitious, less brainy Coldplay and the record that many might have hoped Chris Martin would’ve delivered before he got all pretentious. Instead, the leader of this patrol is Gary Lightbody, and he, as the lead singer and sole songwriter, has charted a course on which the band emphasizes chilly but grand melodies, lyrics with his heart on his sleeve and little musical fuss.

The album starts off strong. “You’re All I Have” is an endearing two-chord rocker wrapped in sterile but hip, New Order-ish production that should allow the band into places the Gin Blossoms couldn’t get to. The guitar gets turned up a little and the distortion pedal gets kicked on for “Hands Open.” The song follows the same basic pattern as its predecessor, but features an exhilarating refrain that’s reminiscent of Pat Benatar or maybe Loverboy.

“Shut Your Eyes” is more complicated than one might think on first listen. It is filled with sonic ornamentation — guitar countermelodies, krautrock keyboards, handclaps, strings and waterlogged computer effects — employed in subtle ways. On top, the vocal melody is so attractive and the song’s overall sound so laid-back that the details are nearly invisible when taken away by the groove.

 

Lightbody drops the narrator routine on “It’s Beginning To Get To Me,” which should be on everyone’s list as one of the best songs of 2006. It starts with the same speedy rhythm of Coldplay’s “Clocks” and segues into a disciplined, locomotive anthem achieved with a low, rumbling bass and clipped, grinding guitar chords. Lightbody comes the closest to sounding like he gives a damn when the “Clocks” part resurfaces and he sings in a falsetto. Again, this is more about doing what’s called for in the song and performing it with technical dryness, but at least it is unexpected.

 

Lightbody gets help again when he has a crowd singing with him on “Make This Go On Forever.” Mostly a piano ballad, the song’s extended chorus has an R.E.M. quality about it but having a group singing very dark lyrics creates an ominous, threatening tone that gives the track unexpected power.

And unexpected power is what makes this record a blockbuster. Sure, “Eyes Open” shuns artistic bravery for pop songwriting excellence. It sets a new bar for the band and others, but doesn’t break new ground. In this case, it isn’t a landmark release. But it is surely something that will linger in your CD player or iPod more than you’d expect.

“Tell your friends!” says Soundbytes’ David Hyland.

For More Info:

Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2006 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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