The third album from britpop/indie rock's Snow Patrol, Final Straw easily took #1 on my list of 2004 releases. Their first major international release, Final Straw is an invigorating mix of rock and pop that became my favorite to listen to in the D.C. Metro. If you haven't heard this album, you should. The fact that it hasn't gotten radio play has boggled my mind since I discovered it. There's not a song on this CD that isn't awesome; as a project, Final Straw is congealed, well-produced, and ecstatically enjoyable.

Final Straw, while most rewarding in terms of musical sound, remains an artistic representation of a stale relationship. Each song pieces together what can only be described as a failed attempt at love. Before you groan--it's not angsty. Most of the time. Rather, Snow Patrol's third release is an opus of one part self-deprecating, one part resigned acceptance, and three parts closure.

1. How to be Dead: highlights an argument between a couple. It's interesting because the song itself is very calm and sort of mirrors the apathetic (if not somewhat passive-aggressive) approach taken by the singer through the lyrics. No you don't know what happened, and you never will if you don't listen to me while I talk to the wall... "How to be Dead" is a mellow introduction to an album that's about to kick it up a notch.

2. Wow: is just that. Wow. Let's stream that calm first track into a funky beat with quick, choppy guitars that match. This is the sound of one hundred people rushing off a subway car and into the heavy flow of mid-afternoon foot traffic. The chorus develops into full-blown rock with punk-sounding lyrics. Say the first thing that comes into your mind when you see me. If it looks like it works and it feels like it works then it works. Gary Lightbody's oddly reverbed vocals match the tone of the song; the intensity of the lyrics combines strangely with the sound to deliver a smile every time. The end result is a cacophony that breaks back into the beat, then fades off.

3. Gleaming Auction: ...only to be picked up again. We're back to a pounding beat and simple lyrics. The song remains plain until we get to the chorus, which again swells into multiple layers of rock. Buried deep in the telegram I'm sure I never got was any clue of the whereabouts of all the things I'd lost. Though the lyrics oscillate between meaningful and simple; the music is what makes this track worthwhile.

4. Whatever's Left: is a perfect transition from the previous song in an almost logical progression. They rely heavily on similar beats, which add to this feeling, and while some might chalk that up to sameness and uncreativity, I think it makes the overall work that much stronger. Someone had his heart broken, but stuck with the relationship past monotony. Each song echoes of the same restless indifference of a romantic see-saw. My fault is it now? Well that's news to me. Curled and joyless we try once again...

5. Spitting Games: easily the best song on the album. It's almost a flashback to when the romance started, recapturing the tortured feel of a crush with wailing guitars and melodic vocals. If you hear no other song on this CD, grab this one; I'd like to meet the person who can't relate to the notion of waiting around for someone to notice you, going to strange--if not childish--lengths to be heard. My heart is bursting in your perfect eyes, as blue as oceans and as pure as skies.

6. Chocolate: This is the straw, final straw in the roof of my mouth as I lie to you. Just because I'm sorry doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it at the time. So now we know what the fuss is about, as well as understanding the title of the album. That thumping drum continues in the background, complete with xylophone, as Lightbody (somehow lightly) pleads for a stay of execution, ready to promise anything for a love he nearly lost.

7. Run: becomes the first melancholy track on the album, resembling a peppy Coldplay with violins. The beat remains constant in the background, though the vocals are more subdued until the chorus, where, in true Snow Patrol style, they swell to full capacity. This song is beautiful and sad, inspiring a top-lung sing-along. Light up, light up as if you have a choice. Even if you cannot hear my voice...

8. Grazed Knees: keeps the mood of "Run" but feels more like an aftermath, the depressed but beautiful feeling of a morning after. If "4 am in someone else's bedroom when you know you should be home" had a sound, it would be this. One giant leap of faith is easy when everyone you ask is so sure...

9. Ways & Means: Oh, yeah. There they are. The drum came back and brought a harsher guitar sound and keyboard. The vocals glide easily over choppy music, giving the track a feeling of agitation and determination. It seems our hero has decided this relationship is not what he wants, that he lied when he said this is what he wanted. Toward the end, "Ways & Means" becomes distorted and whiney, full of confusion and angsty rock. Maybe I won't suffer if I find a way to love her. I'd be lying to myself but there is no way out that I can see.

10. Tiny Little Fractures: clapping. Yes, clapping. Perhaps there is a small 80s revival taking place. If so, this would be a song you'd hear at a rollercade. It's fresh but kitschy, a pop song that's easy enough to ignore. The lyrics are a bit of a guilty pleasure; the thing that I enjoy about this song is that it's something you'd like but never own up to. What do you mean I don't love you? I am standing here, aren't I.

11. Somewhere a Clock is Ticking: we're back to sounding like Coldplay. "Somewhere..." is haunting, repetitive, and would have a great groove if it weren't for the awkward falsetto Lightbody went for. The sound is so heavily borrowed from Coldplay it can't but be purposeful. If you can get around that, though, it's not a bad song. Nearly every lyric is underscored with a hushed I could do most anything to you...

12. Same: for the first time piano is a noticeable instrument, rather than drum or guitar. "Same" is a lovely, if not simple, ballad that reminds me of Ben Folds Five. The vocals are full with chorus moreso here than in any other song. The sound is happy and complete, the perfect end to an exercise in romantic futility. The winter sun makes patterns on your face. It looks like some kaleidoscopic breathing exercise. It's the same...

You need this album. Seriously.

All lyrics and compositions credited to Snow Patrol (Gary Lightbody (vocals, guitar), Nathan Connolly (guitar), Mark McClelland (bass, keyboards), and John Quinn (drums)). Final Straw, produced by Garrett Lee, is copyright Universal records, 2004.

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