hen you have a hit as big and as sloppily romantic as “Run,” people get on your case. Suddenly all those reviews that needed an indie rock band as a placeholder/whipping boy but who didn't want to use Coldplay again had a new name to use! Whatever you want to say about Final Straw, even those of us who picked it up because we liked “Run,” have to admit that most of that album is a very different beast; jaggedly self-lacerating both musically and lyrically, most of the album rushes by as if Gary Lightbody is fighting to get everything out before the one he's wronged walks out forever. Sure, the sound was much more polished than the band's earlier work but their songs and approach managed to sand off enough of that sheen to stay interesting.
Once they had said hit and greater studio backing, I was hoping Lightbody would go on to make the Brit rock equivalent of Tallahassee; of his peers he's the only one who could even come close, and the most affecting moments on Final Straw were the most queasily self-aware, sketching the intersection of passion and really bad ideas. Instead Eyes Open is an album that sounds ready for radios and stadiums, building on the singles from the last record and chock full of angsty love songs. It’s fantastic.
Don't get me wrong; I think in some ways Final Straw is more “admirable” album, if you are willing to think about music that way, and part of me worries that Eyes Open will be the album we'll one day look back at as the beginning of the end, especially if the band gets huge and begins to lose their traction and their heads. But right now this record sounds incredible, crammed full of songs you wish were singles and a couple of interesting detours, and even the three cracks at a new “Run” all stand on their own. Those looking for formal innovation will be bored to tears (as they are by most readily available music), but everyone else needs to give these guys another chance.
Admittedly, Snow Patrol are not making it easy for you to so. “You're All I Have” isn't a horrible choice for a first single, until you've heard the rest of the record; if it's valuable at all it's as an indication of the emotional tenor of most of Eyes Open. The title of Arab Strap's “General Plea to a Girlfriend” is the best way to describe it, because while the lyrics are still occasionally smart or amusing, they’re nearly as much so as before. That doesn't matter often because songs like “Headlights on Dark Roads,” “Hands Open,” and “It's Beginning to Get to Me” are more about forward motion and singing along than contemplation or reflection. Even the grandiose “Make This Go On Forever” and “Open Your Eyes” sweep you up into the moment—prepared by months of playing to crowds baying for the likes of “Run” and “Chocolate” the band rips into them with enough force that it works.
The quieter moments, the composed hum and pulse of the closing “Finish Line,” or the music box twinkle of “You Could Be Happy” hew closer to the feel of Final Straw and still work, although mainly as breathers before another forceful chorus or massed crescendo comes around the corner. There's even enough room on the album for a pocket-sized “Run” called “Chasing Cars” that satisfies despite lacking the grandeur of its cousins (only partly because, for once, Lightbody goes it alone vocally). Thankfully the band hasn't yet succumbed to bloat; even though Eyes Open feels a lot bigger than their previous work everything still fits into a snug 45 minutes.
Nietzsche said “It is easier to be gigantic than beautiful,” but right now Snow Patrol are trying very hard to be both. Eyes Open is composed of broad, obvious songs with broad, obvious hooks, aimed straight for the hearts of as many people as the band can manage. All of this would be bad, horrible even, if it didn't work. But it does; Lightbody and the rest of Snow Patrol have successfully modified their approach, started painting with broader strokes and bolder, more obvious colours. They've moved away from the smaller, more agile virtues of Final Straw but they haven't just gotten bigger, they've traded those strengths for a sound that's catchier, brawnier, in some ways more compelling. For now it's an approach that works for them, stadium rock without guilt. As long as they can avoid becoming the thinking man's Feeder, Eyes Open could be the beginning of something justifiably big.