Two years ago, Snow Patrol released its third album, the glorious pop breakthrough, Final Straw. Songs like their weepy and powerful single, “Run,” and the grandiose “Somewhere a Clock is Ticking,” made it one of the best albums of that year. So, how much can a band change in two years? To answer that, I give you the top ten theories on why I like, but do not love the follow-up album, Eyes Open:
10) Anticipation can lead to disappointment. No matter how good an album may be, time and distance usually multiply into a space that cannot be filled by anything other than greatness. So, while Eyes Open might be a decent record, it doesn’t surpass the strength of their last release, nor surmount the hype that comes with a successful record. In other words, Final Straw was a double edged sword, acting as both a vault into the limelight, but also as the curse of the raised bar.
9) The departure (firing) of bassist Mark McClelland. I have no idea how this really affected the band or their sound. It might just be something that happened between albums with no actual result on the outcome of Eyes Open. But maybe, just maybe, he was the one keeping frontman Gary Lightbody’s tendencies towards over-the-top schmaltz in check.
8) Giving a shout-out to Sufjan Stevens. At first it seemed silly and kind of cool. `Hey! Did he just mention Sufjan? He likes the same music I do!’ But eventually, especially considering the song in which his name appears, “Hands Open,” all it made me want to do was to stop the album and actually play Sufjan instead. “Hands Open” sounds like Snow Patrol would rather be the Goo Goo Dolls or Matchbox 20 instead of Coldplay.
7) Differences shouldn’t be so subtle. Before you jump to conclusions, I really did enjoy Eyes Open, but the differences between it and the previous album are just too subtle to really be noticed. One big difference, if you’re going to make a song reminiscent of the `lump-in-the-throat’ “Run,” like “Chasing Cars,” then you better give it a chorus as memorable as `light up, light up, as if you had a choice.‘ Otherwise, it becomes instantly forgettable.
6) Polish can’t hide everything. Just as Pledge can’t fill in scratches in wood, only making the surface shine, so too does production work only make surface-y songs shine. “Beginning to Get to Me” and “You’re All I Have” are fairly hollow, and though meant to have a trace of darkness or sadness, end up saccharine sweet and merely polish without the depth.
5) Maybe I’m just getting sick of the name. Can a case be made for a band losing its appeal by blaming everything on a terrible band name? What does Coldplay mean, anyway? Snow Patrol, if meant to signify a drug agent, makes some kind of sense, but if it just means a St. Bernard with a mini-keg of brandy around its neck, then this band’s gone to the dogs.
4) Be careful of the words you choose. It’s dangerous to name a song, “Make This Go On Forever,” especially when the song is the longest on the album. Furthermore, he sings, “please save me from this darkness,” to which I ask, `what darkness?’
3) Guest stars are a blessing and a curse. Both Martha Wainwright and Posies/ Big Star member Ken Stringfellow make appearances on the album, one stealing the spotlight, the other never finding it. Ken Stringfellow has such great pop sensibilities that you all but wonder how his imprint could go unnoticed on Eyes Open, but his presence is near impossible to pick out. Not so for Martha, as Ms. Wainwright far outshines Lightbody on “Set the Fire to the Third Bar,” a duet that recalls Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel on “Don’t Give Up.”
2) No one cares about a rock star’s relationship problems. Not everyone can write a song as powerful and yet obtuse and interpretable as U2’s “One” or “With or Without You.” If you can’t, you probably shouldn’t try. When Lightbody bemoans his fate in “You Could be Happy,” or “You’re All I Have,” we just don’t care, even though the former song treads on Postal Service territory successfully.
1) Snow Patrol are simply (Cold)played out. They can blame Chris Martin or they can blame themselves, but either way, this overemotional pop construction had to eventually fall under the weight of its own maudlin ivory tower. Rather than taking a cue from the overblown and underwhelming X&Y, they followed the (Cold)playbook exactly, making an album that is not altogether unappealing, simply another rest stop on the same highway.