I have this theory that a song can only be considered good if it has one of several defining things; a sharp change in melody, quirky vocals, a quick contrast to the standard tune, or just a funny, out of place guitar riff. Any of these things would be that song’s defining moment. Now for an album to be good it must have at least three songs that are completely made up of these aforementioned points. So when listening to a CD, I am very careful to listen out for these things. Snow Patrol’s Final Straw contains many of these quirks. Released last year in Europe, Final Straw has finally made its way to North America; bringing with it a unique take on a familiar sound. Gary Lightbody’s vocals, matched with the band’s melodic music bring the realm of alternative rock its newest heroes.
On the track “Chocolate,” there lays a consistent drum beat and bass line through the entire song, but the magic of the track rests within the vocal arrangement. It starts out as unassuming as a song can be, with a light back bone and simple guitar structures – until one bang of the drums sets off a wondrous trail of splendid pop rock sounds. Lightbody’s voice is present as this constant soothing hum while the rhythm section swirls wildly over his voice and a distant harmony. As the chorus kicks in, it is guaranteed to rouse a warm fuzzy feeling in the pit of the listener’s stomach. This song’s defining moment comes in its words; “What have I done? It’s too late for that / what have I become? / Truth is nothing yet.” They are sung in such an earnest, truthful way that it is almost impossible to not love this tune merely for these lyrics alone.
While most of the quirks on this CD are to be found lying somewhere in the music or the lyrics, track nine is the difference. In “Ways and Means,” it lies in a pause – coming in after a few notes on the piano with strong percussion work and squealing guitars. Throughout the song there is a sharp contrast between the low, consistent grumble of the lead vocals and the clear falsetto backing vocals. The music goes on to become a quick barrage of howling guitars over crisp instrumental backing, but even with that sharp contrast and the strong music, this song would be nothing more than an average track without that pause. It happens sporadically within each verse, an unexpected yet short pause. This gap gives the song its edge by bringing a sense of unpredictability to a track that needed something foreign. It’s unexpected, it’s out of place, and it’s completely beautiful.
In all honesty, I expected this CD to be another band desperately trying to be the next Radiohead or Coldplay. It didn’t help that they were being marketed as what I had expected, but I was surprised by how this band manages to take common sounds and twist it into something that is entertainingly different and wonderful. Final Straw is moody, stunning, and a complete, unexpected triumph for a band relatively unknown in the States.
(Polydor / A&M Records)