Now, ‘indie’ means stadium sized anthems, chorus designed for lighters to be held aloft, sensitive frontmen crooning emotional lyrics. A bit like Snow Patrol, really.
Snow Patrol’s breakthrough third album Final Straw came just at the right time for the band – it was of an age when ‘new Coldplay‘ weren’t dirty words and the slow burning delights of Run was the perfect replacement for when Chris Martin’s piano chords on Clocks was getting just a bit too annoying.
It would be naive to expect Gary Lightbody and company to go back to their more modest sound when Final Straw was such a phenomenal success and so it proves. Eyes Open takes the formula of the last album and magnifies it – goodbye quirky little songs with titles like Get Balsamic Vinegar Quick You Fool, hello epic, lovelorn ballads.
If that sounds negative, it’s not meant to be – there aren’t many singers as emotive and passionate as Gary Lightbody in full flow and he injects the right amount of urgency into early tracks such as You’re All I Have and Hands Open (which namedrops cult US songwriter Surjan Stevens, rather neatly).
Yet while this big sound undeniably does suit Snow Patrol, there’s a nagging feeling that they could do so much better – a feeling only confirmed when they become more intimate and subtle. The gorgeously mournful You Could Be Happy is probably the best track on the album, while both Chasing Cars and Open Your Eyes are terrific, slowly building up and up throughout to create an uplifting, yet still sad, atmosphere.
Canadian songstress Martha Wainwright helps to turn Set The Fire To The Third Bar into a gloriously yearning ballad, her voice sometimes reminding of Kate Bush and intertwining perfectly with Lightbody’s. It’s one of the most successful moments on the album.
Yet elsewhere, there is a definite feeling of Snow Patrol on autopilot. It may be lazy journalism to suggest that a plodding 6 minute song called Make This Go On Forever does indeed go on forever, but it’s unavoidable. Then there’s the unforgivable nonsense of the untitled ‘bonus track’, which basically consists of four minutes of background noises and children talking. The effect is similar to that when someone accidentally rings you on a mobile phone.
After the promising opening to the album, it does seem to settle into a bit of rut after the highlight of Set The Fire To The Third Bar. The second half of the record is dominated by rather turgid numbers like Headlights On Dark Road and a couple of slightly anonymous bonus tracks which fail to add much to the record.
It’s a shame, because there are moments on here that prove Snow Patrol can still hit the heights when they try – the problem is that on Eyes Open those moments don’t happen often enough.