Snow Patrol - Eyes Open
The last few years have been extraordinary for Snow Patrol. Dropped by Jeepster and picked up by the mighty Polydor, their 2003 third album "Final Straw" looked destined to go the way of their previous releases. However, the single "Run" changed all that, and the hastily re-released album soon lifted to number 3 in the UK album chart, remaining within the top 40 for many months, selling over 2 million copies in the process. Along the way they have lost a bass player (founding member Mark McClelland, leaving under a cloud in early 2005), toured with U2, and played at the Live8 concert in Hyde Park. And now they are back, with their fourth album and a lot of expectation.
To be fair, this album is not that far removed from "Final Straw". The sound of the band (and the strength of the songwriting) has not altered. This is in part due to the decision to stick with the same producer, Garrett Lee (who used to be in the band Compulsion) adding much to this album, something the band freely acknowledge. The album very much has the same "feel" as "Final Straw", even in how the songs are put together and sequenced.
Opening single "You're All I Have" is an excellent introduction, a powerful, passionate song that sets the tone in a comfortable fashion. However, it is one of the weaker tracks here; "Hands Open" and "Chasing Cars" are miles better, showing a real progression to Lightbody's songwriting. "Hands Open" in particular is a delight, a stomping, thumping track, with some wonderful vocals. "Chasing Cars" is slower - tender and raw, slowly building to a fabulous climax. "It's Beginning to Get to Me" is also a great example of this albums strengths - a snapping rhythm set against some excellent lyrics. "You Could Be Happy" and "Shut Your Eyes" fall into the same camp - both have a child-like quality to them, the former with its music box accompaniment, "Shut Your Eyes" with its community singing and simplistic arrangement.
Two tracks though stand out head and shoulders amid the rest. "Set The Fire to the Third Bar" features the voice of Martha Wainwright, and is a beautiful piece of music. Their voices merge perfectly, Martha slightly higher in the mix, sounding full of soul and passion. And then "Open Your Eyes", a stunning song. Athemic, but not in a cheesy, "Embrace" style, this tracks slowly builds with a powerful vocal performance from Lightbody, until its near perfect ending.
Some tracks don't work - "Make This Go On Forever" feels like it goes on forever, and "Headlights on Dark Roads" is just a piece of nonsense. These are small criticisms though. Snow Patrol have really delivered, and produced an accessible and passionate body of work.
I guess the only question is this - would they have recorded the same album had "Final Straw" not been a hit. I think the answer is "yes" - that they have gone and recorded the songs they wanted to record, as they want them. As a songwriter, Gary Lightbody has an enormous talent, and this album is a fine follow-up that deserves to eclipse their previous successes.