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Lost Patrol

 

Snow Patrol: Eyes Open

A&M/Interscope, 2006

Rating: 3.4

 

Posted: June 12, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Snow Patrol's breakthrough album, Final Straw, was one of the pleasant surprises of 2004. A collection of hummable, middleweight rock songs, it caromed from the low-key pop exuberance of "Spitting Games" to the straightforward rush of "Wow" and the nakedly ambitious power ballad "Run" (mostly) without betraying the artifice that made it all work. But those seams are right out in plain view on Eyes Open, which lays a bit too bare the calculation (and sometimes the desperation) that goes into crafting a platter of enjoyable tunes.

Maybe frontman Gary Lightbody wrote most of these songs while undertaking a mammoth world tour for Straw, or perhaps he had insufficient time to whip them into shape before going into the studio. Either way, Eyes Open sounds a bit like a Scorpions record -- the result of a band sticking too steadfastly to a successful formula, and slapping some lyrics on top. Final Straw might not have been a singer-songwriter record, tied together with elbow grease, a will to create and a refusal to be deterred, but at least it sounded like fun. Eyes Open doesn't sound like someone moved to create art, or even music -- it sounds like product.

Not that it doesn't open on a strong note. "You're All I Have" might have rolled off of a conveyor belt, but its gently insistent wash and subtle "ooh-ooh-oooh"s strike a familiar chord; you want to like it, despite the slightly troubling banality of the lyrics ("It's so clear now that you are all that I have"), and so you do. "Hands Open" unfolds much more assertively with a bracing, chugging rhythm that echoes "Wow" and a satisfying chorus.

It's easily the best song here -- which is a shame, since there are nine more to go, and none of them manage to make as strong an impression. "It's Beginning to Get to Me" and "Headlights on Dark Roads" find Lightbody marrying his arrested-teen sentiments, lightweight-yet-durable arrangements, expressive vocals and comfy melodies to best effect. "Chasing Cars" and "Set the Fire to the Third Bar" -- the latter a ballad on which Martha Wainwright does fine guest-vocalist duty, her voice occasionally quavering in the ethereal orbit of Kate Bush -- arrest the momentum a bit, but they're enjoyable (and, dare I say it, pretty enough) to compensate.

But the remaining five, while not exactly bad, are overly familiar -- nothing here brazenly copies the swooning arena balladry of "Run," although there are plenty of swelling passages that mistake increasing volume for drama. Likewise, there are none of the quirky flourishes that distinguished Straw numbers like "Spitting Games" (unless you count the left-field #Sufjan Stevens# reference in "Hands Open"). Oh, the songs follow similar templates, but they're not cut from the same cloth, lacking the spark and soul that gave Straw its buoyant sweep.

Listening to Eyes Open is indeed an eye-opening experience, as it gives you a glimpse into how records like Final Straw are made. But when we walk over a tile floor, we don't want to think about the padding and wood underneath; we just want the effect of walking on a tile floor. Eyes Open shows you the elements of a successful record, without the heart that ultimately makes it a success.

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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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