Part deux of the Snow Patrol saga brings us to the reissue of their sophomore album, When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up. The boys from Ireland, now living in Scotland, had scored a few hits with their first album, Songs for Polar Bears, including “Little Hide,” and a few years later with the reissue of “Starfighter Pilot.” Rather than continue on in the footsteps of labelmates Belle & Sebastian, or their other influences like Pearl Jam or Sebadoh, Snow Patrol started to feel more comfortable with their own style of music. Still a three piece consisting of drummer Jonny Quinn (I wonder if he ever gets “Hey, where’s Hadji?” questions), bassist Mark McClelland (voted off the island before their most recent album), and guitarist / vocalist Gary Lightbody, they were continually gaining fans in their native UK while languishing in the US. Their third album would change all that, but as with any successful band, their back catalog is now being mined and we are being treated to those first two albums courtesy of Jeepster and World’s Fair.
Most of us are familiar with Final Straw, the album that launched Snow Patrol in the US, and Clear Up was definitely the precursor to that breakthrough. To hijack a Star Wars analogy, fitting due to their track “Starfighter Pilot,” Final Straw was sort of their Empire Strikes Back, full of emotion and drama, definitely the best of the bunch. Eyes Open was their Jedi, with Ewoks masquerading as overdone radio-friendly hits. The first two albums are somewhat the prequels, we know how good they get later, but we have to see how they got there. Of course, in the UK they see it differently. To them, the whole thing is reversed (just as with the Star Wars films in that it’s all in what order you wish to view them), with the Patrol starting out as a great band with catchy hit singles, but turned into a Coldplay knock-off. At least there wasn’t anything remotely like Jar-Jar in the mix.
When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up is the album where Snow Patrol finally started to sound like Snow Patrol. Lightbody’s vocals were accented and woozy while his guitars were clangy and metallic. The string arrangements would be the last piece they needed for the breakthrough, but everything else seemed to be there. Driving guitar songs collided with breathy ballads. There are a few moments where Snow Patrol sounds like someone else, as in the single “Ask Me How I Am,” which sounds like a Gomez guest spot. It’s still a great song, but we’ve heard it before. The liner notes state that Lightbody and McClelland played all manner of keyed instruments `hamfistedly.’ And while that may be true (the keyboards are somewhat simplistic and Killers-like throughout), the songwriting and chemistry between the basic three instruments and players is nearly impeccable. “Black and Blue” is one of the best precursors to the sound that would make Snow Patrol famous, going from near a capella quietude to blistering rocker halfway through. “Last Ever Lone Gunman” and “One Night is Not Enough” are pure Lightbody vocal magic, with some of the trademark sing-songy verses we’ve all come to expect from the shaggy-haired heartthrob. “If I’d Found the Right Words to Say” becomes the prototype to the sweeping ballads to come, with Lightbody not yet knowing the the `right words to say’ are “Light up, light up, as if you had a choice.”
Come to think of it, maybe these guys are just majorly obsessed with Star Wars. The name Snow Patrol brings to mind images of the ice planet Hoth, so at least they have figured out which movie is the best one. All we can hope is that their ‘prequel’ days are behind them and we won’t be seeing a musical equivalent of The Phantom Menace. Clear Up is the one album of the two reissues that fans of the latter albums will want to pick up. It finds Snow Patrol at that last moment of growth, you know, when kids go from high school to college, put on some weight, and finally start to look like adults. Or to put it another way, when Luke finally stopped whining about having to fix the evaporators and not being able to go to the Academy.