[The Mail On Sunday, 2006]
A COUPLE OF years back, The Fall released a compilation under the wry, Elvis referencing title of 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong. The joke being twofold - a play upon the band's modestly enumerated following, and upon the notion that numbers confer artistic vindication.
As regards the latter: Snow Patrol sold 1.5 million copies of their last album, Final Straw. That suggests they're popular, by any measure. More popular than, say, The Fall. But it depends on how you measure it. Each of those 50,000 Fall fans probably cherishes The Fall above all other bands - more, indeed, than most things in life. I'd be surprised if Snow Patrol mean so much to any but a handful of those who bought Final Straw.
While you can't second-guess what will move people, it takes only a little imagination to see how. Snow Patrol's breathy rock sound is big, glossy and vague - an emotional catch-all. Whatever you're feeling, they'll soundtrack it by default, providing the illusion of warmth and empathy. They're a giant stuffed toy of a band, a reliable comforter for anyone disinclined to question the sheen of their fur.
Eyes Open (Ficton*) provides plenty more high-quality kapok tufted with nylon - enveloping, reassuring, inanimate. I've played it several times, and struggle to recall a thing about it. I can tell you that if you liked Final Straw, you'll like this too; and good luck telling the difference.
It's not often I've found myself turning with relief to grunge survivors Pearl Jam (J **, an act whom I've generally considered to be wearisomely overblown. But after the bloodless plush of Snow Patrol, Pearl Jam's self titled eighth album at least feels, as the best of their songs once had it, alive. It's also surprisingly compressed - even, at times, terse; as if their customary excesses had started to weigh even on them. Where their records so often wallow, this one kicks. I can't say I've been converted to fandom, but I certainly have a bit more time for this album than any of its predecessors.
Eccentricity all too often blurs into wilful wackiness, and when it comes to pop, that can be particularly excruciating. So credit to Chicago siblings The Fiery Furnaces, who are sometimes unfathomable, but never insufferable. Bitter Tea (Rough Trade ***) picks a wobbling, tiptoe trail through an attic crammed with exotic bric-a-brac and theatrical props. Jarring, folding back upon itself, whispering and blurting abstruse stories, it's one of those records which commands either full attention or none at all. If anyone out there is an admirer of the fascinatingly loopy Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, they can discover his musical equivalent in Eleanor and Matthew Friedburger.
Are Aussie power trio Wolfmother (Modular ***) serious? Or would they like to be to Led Zeppelin what The Darkness are to Queen and hair metal? It doesn't really matter. Whatever their intention, their eponymous debut album is, from its shrieks, powerchords and guitar gymnastics to its pseudo-Pagan sleeve, howlingly ludicrous. And yet, such is their absolute fidelity to their currently unfashionable source and their skill at replicating it, they compel a sneaking admiration that The Darkness do not - perhaps because Zeppelin are a band worth plundering in the first place.
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