Quick review: Much more mature than their prior album Final Straw, significantly featuring more instrumentation including heavy use of piano, violin, and even backing choirs on vocals. Lead singer's vocals are much improved. Obvious U2 influence throught the album thanks to touring with them on the Vertigo tour. Four stars out of five, and an early frontrunner for my top ten albums of the year. (four out of five stars)
Give it a try if you enjoy: Snow Patrol's previoius album, Coldplay, U2, The Shins.
Snow Patrol is an alternative rock band from Northern Ireland, who first shot to pop prominence with the emo-ish ballad "Run" from their 2004 album "Final Straw" (technically a 2003 release in the UK, but wasn't released in the US until 2004). However, as fans of Snow Patrol's album know, most of the rest of the album stood in stark contrast to the haunting "Run". With brisk-moving tracks such as "Wow", "Gleaming Auction" and "Somewhere a Clock is Ticking", the majority of Final Straw featured some of the same haunting vocals from "Run" set against harder rock songs, with predominant use of distortion in the vocals and guitars and muted drum beats. Most US Snow Patrol fans found the band through "Run", but appreciated the entire album. They drew obvious critical comparisons to Coldplay, but in my opinion their music featured a lot more emotional depth, especially in the lyrical content penned by vocalist/guitarist Gary Lightbody.
Their second album (from a US-centric viewpoint, from a UK view this is their fourth) Eyes Open dropped on May 9th. I picked it up Saturday.
The album begins with an ethereal guitar introduction to open the first track, "You're All I Have". For the first five seconds, I'm expecting "Run Part Two: Return of Emo". However, instead we get an immediate wave of sound - the drums, guitar and bass all slam in to the track and I'm pleasantly surprised by faster paced alt-rock feel much more typical of the "rest of" Final Straw. Within thirty seconds, however, I'm quite taken aback by one thing: it looks like vocalist Gary Lightbody used some of their payday from Final Straw's sales to take some serious vocal lessons.
As the opening track flows in to the second - the first single from the album, Hands Open - that thought that Lightbody's vocal performance has drastically improved is significantly underscored. Not only has he obviously put some serious work in to his voice in the past two years, but it appears to actually have paid off in spades. We've still got some of the angst, but we've got a clear lifting melody, we've got some very pleasant harmonizing in choruses, we've got something that's probably going to be really radio friendly, in the same way that Coldplay won over a lot of new friends. As Lightbody sings "ut Sufjan Stevens on... and we'll play your favorite song... Chicago bursts to life and your sweet smile remembers you, my hands open, my eyes open, I just keep hoping that your heart opens... much of the signature Snow Patrol guitar sounds drop out and its just Lightbody singing a pure series of notes over a driving drum beat and a thrumming bass line... and its really good stuff.
The rest of the album flows by, much in the same style: clean vocals, supportive yet subtle percussion, distinctive guitar sounds. Hands Open fades in to a ballad more in the style of Run titled "Chasing Cars". Chasing Cars draws obvious Coldplay comparisons, with a clean piano run sprinkled through the song, giving it a much more tender feel than their earlier works. Shut Your Eyes has an obvious U2 influence - Snow Patrol opened for U2 on their European leg of their Vertigo Tour, and its obvious that they've grown as a band from their time with Bono and the boys from Dublin. Shut Your Eyes would easily have been at home on U2's Pop. The next track, Its Beginning to Get to Me also has a strong U2 feel, but more of a "Beautiful Day" feel from "All That You Can't Leave Behind".
Track six, You Could Be Happy, opens with what sounds like a music box - or possibly a traditional Irish dulcimer - which I'm surprised to hear run through the entire three minute song. Lightbody's vocals come over the top in another lilting ballad punctuated with very light percussion and the soft voice of violins in the background. It flows nicely in to a very impressive "Make This Go On Forever", possibly their most mature song on the album which features more slow melodic piano, and a haunting choir of backing voices harmonizing on the emotional chorus of "The last girl in the last reason to make this last for as long as I could...first kiss and the first time that I felt connected to anything... the weight of water, the wait is on me to look past everything I have ever learned... the final word in the final sentence you ever wrote to me was "love".
Track eight, Set the Fire to the Third Bar, features a duet with Canadian folk singer Martha Wainwright. Headlights on Dark Roads is perhaps their fastest paced song to date, with driving alt-rock guitars reminiscent of Weezer among others. Open Your Eyes features more use of orchestration, including a dramatic building crescendo that runs through the last two minutes of the song. Finally the album closes with a haunting ballad "The Finish Line" which has an ambient new-age feel mixed with heavily reverberated vocals.
In closing out the album, I'm impressed with the band's obvious musical evolution. Its very clear that they've taken quite a bit from their time with U2, and they've obviously decided to make their music more musical with cleaner, improved vocals, orchestration, and the incorporation of several other instruments primarily the piano and violins, and even backing choirs on vocals. Four stars out of five, and an early frontrunner for my top ten albums of the year.