In spite of my numerous musical accomplishments, such as singing “May There Always be Sunshine!” to a distinguished African delegation in Soviet Ukraine and performing in San Francisco’s premier ex-Soviet Jewish music and dance group Tikvah, I don’t play any instrument and am utterly hopeless when discussing music. Last week, I tagged along with a friend to see Snow Patrol, the alt band from Northern Ireland and Scotland.
They gave a fantastic performance, and it was a lot of fun. The music is melodic and has the right mix of complaint and optimism and fast and slow for my liking. There was a bit of joking around—always a good sign when bands don’t take themselves too seriously—and a request to sing on one’s toes. I am good at following important directions. That’s as sophisticated as my analysis will get. Here’s what The New York Times had to say:
Nowadays scruffy rock bands are learning what pop stars long ago discovered: It pays to have “one song you know….” Snow Patrol…has “Chasing Cars,” a ballad that became its first American pop hit. (It reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100.) Even if the title doesn’t ring a bell, the refrain — delivered in a pleasing accent by a singer from Northern Ireland — just might. It begins, “If I lay here/If I just laaay here.”
Those nine words helped Snow Patrol crack America….Snow Patrol has officially gone from the Scottish indie scene (the band was formed in Glasgow) to the American mainstream. Fans knew all the songs, but they might not have been there were it not for that one song.
“Chasing Cars” comes from “Eyes Open” (A&M/Universal), the fourth Snow Patrol album, which was the top-selling CD last year in Britain, where the band is well established. No doubt some fans hear Snow Patrol as a humbler, hipper version of Coldplay. (One lyric from the new album drops an indie-rock name: “Put Sufjan Stevens on/And we’ll play your favorite song.”) That’s not fair, especially since the earliest incarnation of Snow Patrol predates Coldplay by nearly half a decade, but it is understandable.
Snow Patrol’s grandest songs build slowly and gently, until eventually the huge chorus unfurls. (By contrast the worst ones simply trudge, like “Make This Go On Forever,” which did.) Gary Lightbody, the highly likable lead singer, knows how to lead a sing-along without letting the power go to his head. “Shut Your Eyes” was no doubt designed to make crowds go nuts, but Mr. Lightbody made the refrain sound like a simple request: “Shut your eyes and sing to me….”
Certainly Snow Patrol doesn’t have a marketable image or a polarizing sub-genre or a famous face or an audacious sound. What Snow Patrol has is songs: a few great ones, along with a bunch of less-than-great ones. And its fans don’t want deep-catalog obscurities or free-form improvisations; they want to sing along. As Mr. Lightbody and his band mates know, there is only one way to avoid becoming a one-hit wonder: Write more.
Well, I hope that they will write a lot more. I disagree with the reviewer about “Make This Go On Forever” being one of their “worst” songs. It’s angsty, and I happen to like it. Although I think this was a well-written and fair review, it also reminded me why I don’t usually read music reviews: They make me doubt my personal tastes. I got three Snow Patrol albums—Final Straw, Eyes Open and A Hundred Million Suns—and found something I loved on each one. The band is on tour until the end of the year in the United States and United Kingdom, so check these guys out. The concert truly made my month. I am even feeling inspired enough to possibly make good on my ancient but not forgotten plan to pick up the guitar.