Snow Patrol's past didn't point to an overtly mainstream, straightforward, radio-ready album like Eyes Open: In the past, the Scottish band (with Irish roots) has always pulled back from that grandiose last step, preferring to keep one toe moist in the indie pool. After all, singer Gary Lightbody fronts The Reindeer Section, a supergroup that features members of Belle And Sebastian and The Vaselines—how could he even have rafter-reaching rock within him? Snow Patrol's amazing 2004 album Final Straw came close, but it never took the leap from big, Coldplay-esque balladry to U2's over-the-top-isms. Eyes Open dives headfirst into mainstream waters, hoping the strength of its intentions will be visible through the glossy bombast. It is, but it takes some surface-scratching to reach it.
Right out of the gate, Eyes Open puts its hands uncomfortably close to generic mainstream flames: "You're All I Have" chugs along on guitars and big choruses everyone's heard before, but flips what could've been rote-rock into the kind of windows-open anthem that drive-time DJs and indie kids can both love. "Hands Open" is even bigger and bolder, and it throws those indie kids a curveball lyrical nod: "Put Sufjan Stevens on / And we'll play your favorite song." "It's Beginning To Get To Me" is similarly strident and accessible, practically begging for placement in a guy-chasing-girl summer movie. In other words, it works.
But Eyes Open balances outsized choruses with plenty of engaging micro-moments: "You Could Be Happy" plinks and plunks gently through potentially dangerous lyrics ("take a glorious bite out of the whole world"), but manages sweetness; "Set The Fire To The Third Bar" reads like a Death Cab For Cutie song and features a dark, beautiful guest vocal from Martha Wainwright; and the terrific "Chasing Cars" out-Coldplays most of that band's X&Y. The whole endeavor lacks the endearing subtlety of the bands Snow Patrol might fancy itself aligned with—it covered a Low song once—but Eyes Open does a fine job of reclaiming a corner of the mainstream for the good guys.