That Patrol Emotion

The Snow Patrol take the States by blizzard

They don't get much in the way of solid precipitation in Scotland, the home of the curiously named (Northern) Irish band Snow Patrol, although there does exist a handful of ski areas. So there must be an interesting reason behind the handle, right?

Not so fast, irony seeker.

Turns out it's as mundane as this: the band's (not-so) original name Polar Bear was taken by Eric Avery, the former bass player for Jane's Addiction, who threatened the group with legal action should they not desist from using Avery's arctic appellation.

But as Snow Patrol's bio proudly notes, Avery and cohort got their comeuppance in the form of the "cheekily" titled debut from Snow Patrol, Songs for Polar Bears. Ouch!

The April release and subsequent success of Snow Patrol's major-label breakthrough, The Final Straw, is but one salvo in yet another new new wave of U.K. rock making significant inroads toward Stateside relevance. Along with contemporaries like Franz Ferdinand (also from Scotland), the Libertines and the resurgent Clinic, Union Jack rock is once again starting to matter.

In the midst of their first U.S. tour, Snow Patrol will arrive in Tucson Saturday with a deafening din of hype accompanying them. Attempts at arranging an interview were stymied by obstacles like TV show tapings (they appeared on the Craig Kilborn-less Late Late Show Monday and on Letterman back in September), Tower Records in-stores and radio station appearances. It's almost a thing of beauty to see the way in which the music industry's machinery of commerce can turn nobodies into somebodies faster than you can say "currently residing in the where-are-they-now? file."

But with the exceptions of Oasis and Ashlee Simpson, no music-biz machinations would sustain any group if they don't have talent, right? In Snow Patrol's case, that's tru-ish. Final Straw is by no means a work of transcendent originality, nor is it a particularly inventive employment of established rock conventions. Instead, it's a reformulation of canonical elements of shoegazer (clearly, this is a band influenced by My Bloody Valentine) and American indie rock. What saves Snow Patrol from being yawn-inducing is well-crafted, well-produced songwriting.

Credit singer Gary Lightbody with emotionally portentous lyrics that seem to place the listener smack in the middle of a dying relationship, creating a subtext for the music that's poignant without being forlorn. "Light up / light up/ as if you have a choice," Lightbody sings on the album's best song, "Run," which uses the addiction metaphor to describe how it all went wrong with his lady. "My feelings stay the same / Covered head to toe / In blood and fear and spite," goes the cheery sentiment on "Gleaming Auction." Give Snow Patrol propers for at least one first: The Final Straw is perhaps the first album in which every single song is about a breakup, and despite Lightbody's claim that his writing was influenced by the then-impending Iraq war, no evidence of overtly political overtone can be found.

Keeping The Final Straw from being a gloomy opus of mope is the production work of one Jackknife Lee, best known as a techno confederate of Adrian Sherwood. Lee brings electronic flourishes to the bombastic manner in which he records Snow Patrol's instrumentation, making The Final Straw sound like a heavier version of Grandaddy, with whom Snow Patrol toured England earlier this year. It's Lee who makes the guitars crackle and the drumming throb, and it's Lee whose expert use of dropouts (wherein a riff at the fore of the mix is suddenly removed for dramatic effect) puts everything in sharp relief.

It's too early to tell whether Snow Patrol is destined for Coldplay-dom or also-ran status, but they're worth watching. One gets the feeling that this is a band for which the best days might be ahead.

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