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Let It Snow


Snow Patrol: Final Straw

A&M/Universal, 2004

Rating: 4.3



Posted: April 7, 2004

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Gary Lightbody, front man for U.K. rockers Snow Patrol, sings in a breathy voice that suggests indie-rock fixture Lou Barlow with a hint of balladeer Nick Drake. That delivery fits with Lightbody's lyrics, which teeter precariously on the precipice between Drake's introspective confessions and Barlow's world-weary, emotional confrontations. But on Final Straw, whereas Lightbody strikes a balance between those two poles, Snow Patrol takes a different approach. Veering away from the dreamy intellectualism of Scottish contemporaries like Belle & Sebastian and Arab Strap, the Patrol bolsters Lightbody's sentiments with sturdy rock arrangements that nod to Sebadoh-style fuzz-crunch ("Whatever's Left") while standing firmly rooted in melodic-anthem territory.

The result is Snow Patrol's most direct and aggressive album yet, a clear and decisive bid for the kind of wide mainstream appeal enjoyed by the Coldplays of the world. That's most evident in the album's middle stretch: the insistently catchy verses of "Spitting Games," the driving-hammer tempo of the winsome "Chocolate" and the unrestrained earnestness of "Run," a precision radio ballad packed with plaintive lyrics, rigorous strumming, sweeping strings and a hook that yanks without reservation for the heartstrings of adolescent girls everywhere.

Listeners are primed for that grandiose moment early on, as Lightbody lays the lyrical groundwork with the toe-tapping "How to Be Dead," which traces the snaking lines of one half of an argument from hesitancy ("Please don't go crazy if I tell you the truth") through resolve ("Please keep your hands down and stop raising your voice") and frustration ("You've not heard a single word I have said / Oh my God"). "Wow" rides a bracing rock undercurrent over which Lightbody sings with a firm contriteness ("My role in this mess is not something that I can be proud of / But it's all going to change"). The two-minute gem "Gleaming Auction" fuses the best elements of those two predecessors, Lightbody delivering stinging break-up lines ("Just because you were right before / Doesn't mean you're right / To make up now would just vindicate / Every doubt I've had / It's not as simple as / How much you think you care") via a steadily rising melody reinforced by a stirring slide-guitar line.

Lightbody's lyrics do occasionally stumble into junior-high yearbook sentiment: "I'm far too shy to talk to you at school.My heart is bursting in your perfect eyes," he sings on the propulsive singalong "Spitting Games," while "Run" makes no secret of its couples'-dance aspirations: "Even if you cannot hear my voice/ I'll be right beside you, dear," he yearns in the chorus. Such naked power-balladry aside, Final Straw avoids sounding calculated by the time it reaches the fuzz-guitar catharsis and protracted "Ahhhh"s of "Tiny Little Fractures." Unfortunately, instead of ending there, the album indulges in two more tracks that strive even further to be taken seriously, to detrimental effect: "Somewhere A Clock Is Ticking"' labors under the weight of a flurry of strings and overly serious harmonizing, while "Same" seeks to approximate Spiritualized at its most gospel-tinged bombastic.

The album is stronger when it couches its desire to be taken seriously in more subtle approaches, such as "How to be Dead"'s false-start opening and the abrupt shift that ends "Spitting Games," screeching the arrangements to a halt save for a processed, live-sounding vocal and hollow bass, contrived but no less effective for it. But it's at its best when it channels that mainstream ambition into confident riffs and subtly affecting melodies. At those moments, Final Straw positions Snow Patrol as a serious contender in the Brit-pop (okay, Scotch/Irish pop) sweepstakes.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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