Though the bands have little in common musically, Snow Patrol lived its early years in the shadow of Belle And Sebastian, mostly because the two shared a tiny record label (Jeepster) and a home base (Scotland). But beyond cute images on its album sleeves, there's little twee, fey, or overtly clever about Snow Patrol. In America, the group has been subject to more accurate comparisons, like to U2 and Coldplay, but with its third album, Final Straw—released in late 2003 in the UK, and early 2004 in the U.S.—Snow Patrol hits its stride hard enough to render most sonic analogies only marginally useful.
Gambling on a more muscular, melodic, and direct sound, Final Straw sounds like a brass-ring grab, but these blunt shots at bigness actually suit Snow Patrol's spirit: After years of skirting the margins of pop pomp, the band has become—perhaps surprisingly—quite adept at it. "Run" grabs the baton from Coldplay's "Yellow" and takes it for a weepy, grandiose jog: It's the Brit-rock equivalent of a power ballad, gauzing through six minutes of simplistic sentiment ("Even if you cannot hear my voice / I'll be right beside you, dear"), yet somehow managing to remain resolutely, wonderfully believable. Final Straw even successfully repeats the formula, both on "How To Be Dead" and the big finisher, "Same."
If it were all grand gestures and hooky choruses, Final Straw might get tired, but it manages enough sideways looks to remain intriguing from stem to stern. "Wow" and "Tiny Little Fractures" both build up nice heads of steam, revealing bits of an American indie-rock influence. (The latter, if taken down a couple of production notches, might pass for a Sebadoh song in a dimly lit room.) "Spitting Games" even compromises one of the album's poppiest moments in the interest of a weird, rewarding finish in which Gary Lightbody's vocals disappear into the abyss. But in the end, Final Straw's most straightforward moments carry the bulk of its emotional weight, proving that when delivered with sincerity, even what seems obvious can prove remarkable.