Friday, September 22, 2006

Snowed In - The Lessons Taught by Snow Patrol

I've got no hesitation in admitting that I've completely lost touch with popular music. Apart from new albums from artists I've always kept track of (e.g. the Roots, Basement Jaxx, Tortoise, etc), I've got no idea what's going on in rock and roll nowadays. According to the commercial radio station I listen to in the mornings (the annoyance of morning shows wake me up quickly, and the university radio station here doesn't seem to understand block format), the mainstream's consistent mainly of the Pussycat Dolls, Fergie, JT, and Gnarls Barkley (more on the latter later). A flip over to the other commercial stations reveals that rock and roll's mainly slipped into a constant state of emo, with varying shades of new wave cum Franz Ferdinand, with the odd shock of Nickelback to make sure that, uh, we're not overly sensitive fags or somethin'.

Thus, seeing the crowd absolutely swoon over Snow Patrol took me aback. I knew Snow Patrol were popular, but I had no clue as to HOW popular they are. A glance through the crowd saw at least 2/3 mouthing along with the lyrics, 1/4 shooting videos with their camera phones, and, more surprisingly, me recognizing at least 85% of the songs.

Or so I think I did. Snow Patrol's got 90s brit pop down solid. Each song's a well-crafted britpop guitar surge, cultimating in some sort of release that finds itself universal response amongst the fey cardigan-boys, the complex frat-boys, the indie flick girls and the aging hipsters. Each song sounds like that-song-that-you-just-can't-name, 'cause Snow Patrol are either brilliant at writing songs that sound just like another song you like or brilliant at writing songs that other bands have tried to copy. I can't be sure which one it is, but I do know that I at least think I recognized every song, which is much more than I can say when I hear your average rock hit on the radio (who is this 30 Seconds to Fallout at the Disco?).

It's interesting to see this whole new genre of bands that can seemingly be lumped into bands-in-Zach-Braff-movies-or-at-least-an-episode-of-Gray's-Anatomy-or-the-OC. They might not all sound the same (though they're typically guitar-based power pop with the now constant keyboard player in the mix), but a good majority are indie bands that have now crossed over into playing larger venues, and if they're anything like Snow Patrol, the growing pains are there.

Snow Patrol would've sounded amazing in a tiny club, sounded good at tonight's small arena (approx. 1000-1500 capacity, I'd say), and will probably sound tiny in any larger venue. They're a club band whose fan base demands a larger venue, even if their sound doesn't quite match. It's close - that guitar surge, backed by light show (light show!) serves for great arena antics - but it certainly won't propel Snow Patrol further, until they're able to write that song that every single person has committed to their memory, whether willingly or not, and can burn on the mixtape of their lives. Put it simply, Snow Patrol's a good band at being slightly above average, but certainly not a band that will go down in the canon, which is typically where massive arena bands end up. Snow Patrol very well might end up being the Journey or ELO of our times.

Return to the thesis statement of this post, though, and you'll hear my caveat: I've got no clue what's going on music nowadays. The last few albums I have downloaded all date back before 1985. This Slate article on Gnarls Barkley has pointed out a strange phenomenon, though: "Crazy" is entering the musical canon and we're all witness to it. So far I've recognized it as an amazingly affectious song with little to nothing wrong with it, see that it's got the same mass appeal as "Hey Ya," but haven't thought much further than that. If the Slate article is right, would I have thought "What's Going On" or "Move On Up" were merely good summer hits?

Probably...but I hope not. Hindsight's easy, and it's especially easy when you've got all the force of rock criticism behind you. But then again, I've got no idea what's going on...and that's probably easily retroactive, too.

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