Snow Patrol might be my Nickelback. Everyone has their own Nickelback. For many people it is Nickelback. For others, it can be a Top 40 band, some strange Eurovision runner-up or any from a list of prolific singer-songwriters. I’ve known people before whose Nickelback’s have been Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Bruno Mars, but Snow Patrol plays the part for me. Snow Patrol are my band-that-if-anybody-found-out-I-secretly-enjoyed-would-probably-represent-the-death-of-my-credibility-as-a-reputable-source-on-music-and-probably-bankrupt-any-social-capital-that-I-might-have-had. Declarations of Nickelback bands aren’t usually this public or this intentional. Usually it happens by accident. You’ll be singing karaoke in a bar and suddenly you know a few too many of the words to ‘How You Remind Me’ without having to look at the screen. Or Swift’s ‘Love Story’ will come on while channel surfing in the car and your passenger will be astounded when you start drumming on the steering wheel and belting out ‘Romeo, kiss me!’ These are not safe releases of Nickelback syndrome. Containing real adoration surreptitiously for too long without admission of guilt can have socially unhealthy consequences. Thus this blog.
My problems with ‘Hands Open’ start with the hard snares and thrashing guitars at the outset. They’re so terribly cliche, a hackneyed count-in to the track, that you almost expect frontman Gary Lightbody to break out with a ‘1, 2, 1, 2, 3, Go!’ The thing is, though, the song really only has two levels. There’s ‘on’, which is that driving, simple drum line throughout accompanied by shredding, short guitar chords and there’s ‘really on’ which gets a shot of full-throttle, abandon-filled vocals, a few more cymbals in the mix and guitars that push harder still. Having kicked around for almost twelve years before releasing this as the first single from 2006’s ‘Eyes Open’ (transparency prevails) and having put out three commercially unsuccessful albums before a minor hit in 2003’s ‘Final Straw’ and then this, 6-million selling beast, you can’t fault the Glasgow-based lads for trying. While formula music propels soaps and daytime drama across the globe, someone needs to soundtrack it. ‘Hands Open’ is quality programming.
One of my other major gripes with ‘Hands Open’ is the way it so nonchalantly namechecks Sufjan Steven’s ‘Chicago’ from his sensational ‘Illinoise’ (the second after ‘Michigan’ of his ill-fated fifty states album plan). ‘Illinoise’ remains one of my favourite albums ever and baldly attempting to import some of its undeniable gravitas by suggesting ‘Chicago’ is the protagonist’s girl’s ‘favourite song’ initially smacked of a lame grab at intertextuality. Inevitably, as happens with Nickelback bands, all lyrical and musical misdemeanours are forgotten and so the reference seems more cute than pretentious by now. If anything, the personal detail serves to lighten the load of a track that is unrelentingly austere, helped along by Lightbody’s intense, almost melodramatic tone and the band’s confidence in the constancy of that drum beat and the strength of a weighty chorus. The sentiment might be thick but is fairly evenly spread and the transition from ‘on’ to ‘really on’, as obvious and predictable as it is, still gets me every time. So there. I’ve said it. Now I can get back to air drumming.
Snow Patrol – Hands Open