Millennial Masterpieces #3: Snow Patrol – [Eyes Open]

Welcome to Millennial Masterpieces, where I’ll look back at a great album released within the past 17 years and see what its legacy is. Third in the series is the chart-topping and quietly brilliant breakthrough album from UK balladeers Snow Patrol, Eyes Open.

Released: May 9th, 2006

Snow Patrol have been unjustly pigeonholed by modern music critics, accused of riding Coldplay‘s coattails as fellow weepy anthem writers from the UK. A cursory glance does reveal some superficial similarities; both acts are best known for soaring “triumph of the human spirit” type tracks, not to mention the thematic link between the bands’ monikers (though it’s worth noting that Snow Patrol came to be one year before Coldplay).

While their biggest hits could easily fit together on a playlist, anyone who delves deeper into the bands’ respective catalogues will find more differences than they’d expect. Coldplay’s Chris Martin holds an innate lightness in him, and even that band’s most maudlin songs have always sounded buoyant despite their subject matter.

Conversely, Gary Lightbody‘s songwriting has always been imbued with a darker undercurrent, his melodic fingerprint revolving around a specific minor key hook that makes even the Big Radio Hits sound grounded and human. Coldplay reach outwards, where Snow Patrol furrow their brows and remain introspective. It extends to the two bands’ stylistic preferences as well- Snow Patrol are brawnier, more urgent, and bass-heavy than Martin and company. It’s most evident on Eyes Open, where Snow Patrol firmly establish themselves as Alternative Rock.

Eyes Open has never been described as a concept album, but one listen reveals that it very blatantly revolves around the dissolution of one relationship. The whole record seems to take place inside Lightbody’s mind; the eleven tracks various stages of a break-up. Hope, anger, sadness, and acceptance are all covered from his point of view at one point in time. It’s almost dreamlike, as if it’s happening over the course of one evening. Although the songs range from four-chord guitar rock to ethereal interludes, they’re all linked with a few clever touches.

Glitchy electronic blips and textures are strewn across the record, popping up even on straightforward rockers like “It’s Beginning to Get to Me”. These little accoutrements work in conjunction with the album’s artwork to add an abstract sheen to all the tracks. This album is the UK’s answer to The Postal Service‘s Give Up, most evident on the music-box laden “You Could Be Happy”. The spirit of France’s M83 also appears on the very M83-ish titled “Headlights on Dark Roads”. Cars and vehicles actually feature prominently in the lyrics of several songs, obviously including the inescapable “Chasing Cars”.

It was of course “Chasing Cars” that made the band a karaoke staple, but that song’s little guitar hook is far from the only immediate hook on Eyes Open. “Hands Open” instantly lays down its four chord riff over a stomping drumbeat; “Shut Your Eyes” has a similarly memorable, if more subdued progression.

The best moments on Eyes Open come in the form of a one-two punch on the latter half of the record. The heavy, rain-drenched majesty of “Make This Go On Forever” may be the best song Snow Patrol has ever written, as it grows steadily from one piano and a bass to a dizzying full band arrangement that builds and builds until it collapses into a bleak coda that segues perfectly into the next rack. The sparse “Set The Fire To The Third Bar” is a wonderful reaction to the intensity of “Make This Go On Forever”, a direct sequel that employs guest Martha Wainwright as a reassuring voice of comfort.

A sense of peace concludes the record with the soft, percussion-free “The Finish Line”. Bathed in reverb, it acts as a balm for the rest of the album’s jagged edges. It’s both melancholy and reassuring, closing off Eyes Open on a note of renewal both sonically and thematically.

Top Three Tracks: “Make This Go On Forever”, “Set The Fire To The Third Bar”, “Shut Your Eyes”