If there were ever a call for a new category called ‘twee-grunge,’ Snow Patrol are the band deserving of the title. They broke big with their third album, Final Straw, and after touring with U2, have brought out Eyes Open. For most US fans, these are the only Snow Patrol albums they had ever heard. The Scottish (really from Northern Ireland, but they went to school in Dundee and later moved to Glasgow) band’s first two albums were hits in the UK, but were barely noticeable on this side of the Atlantic. Songs for Polar Bears first debuted on Jeepster Records in 1998 and now, eight years later, World’s Fair is treating us to the reissue with bonus tracks so that we can see that Snow Patrol was more than just a Coldplay knock-off.
Early in their careers, and you wouldn’t know it from the five to six piece traveling band as of late, Snow Patrol was a trio consisting of singer / guitarist Gary Lightbody, bassist Mark McClelland (who recently left / was kicked out of the band), and drummer Jonny Quinn. Before the anthemic balladry that Snow Patrol became known for, they were much more raw. Songs sound like a mix between Nirvana at Kurt Cobain’s most restrained moments, and labelmates Belle & Sebastian at their most energetic. Isobel Campbell, before she broke out on her own, appears on the track “NYC.” At other times, you can hear the influences of some of Lightbody’s early favorites including Pearl Jam and Sebadoh, and if one can imagine a mash-up of those bands, you can imagine what Songs for Polar Bears sounds like. Hearing the beginnings of Snow Patrol, after we’ve gone through all the overblown hype, is refreshing. Unlike Coldplay, the states didn’t get in on the ground floor with Snow Patrol. Instead, the UK had two up on us.
This is nearly a completely different Snow Patrol. Songs like the stunning ballad “Mahogany” certainly showed what was to come with the panty-dropping anthems of Final Straw, but there was much more variance between songs back then. “NYC” with its limited lyric, driving guitar and Campbell’s sweetly sung backups and the extremely catchy “Starfighter Pilot” are some of the band’s best. This is the album that indie fans had hoped some of Snow Patrol’s later albums could have been, sans the overdone production. “Little Hide” has some effects on the vocals, but the guitars are as raw as some of the lo-fi sounds of the early ’90s. “Make Up” sounds like a refugee from Bleach without the laryngitis causing screaming.
Is this really the same band? “Velocity Girl,” sonically at least, seems to point to yes, as it is a steady and measured beauty of a song, but song titles such as “Days Without Paracetamol,” “One Hundred Things You Should Have Done in Bed,” and “Get Balsamic Vinegar…Quick You Fool” as well as lyrics like, “I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but she’s a crazy fucked up bitch” seem to give one pause. In fact, some of these songs are so much more aggressive and just a bit spacier than their later work, that I felt like I needed to light up, light up, as if I had a choice. (I could tell you the story of how I actually thought I was a starfighter pilot during the `space’ portion of a Grateful Dead show in Oakland, but I digress).
These reissues by World’s Fair and Jeepster finally bring to the states what Snow Patrol really means to most fans in the UK. To most of America, they were the attractive Scots who sang “Run,” but to the Brits they were much more. Most of the bonus tracks are b-sides from the various singles released from the album, rarities most American fans have probably never heard. “Limited Edition” is one of those b-sides that is worth getting the album for. For those of you disappointed by the letdown after the hype surrounding Eyes Open, go out and pick up Songs for Polar Bears and When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up, you won’t be disappointed.
Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
Belle & Sebastian – The Boy with the Arab Strap
Sebadoh – Bakesale