If you’re going to listen to an arena-leaning rock band that spreads the anthems on thick, you really should be listening to Snow Patrol.
After years of laboring in obscurity, they’ve settled in comfortably to a familiar formula – expansive, heavily layered rockers mingling with hushed, intimate ballads. To that end, A Hundred Million Suns doesn’t sound much different than Snow Patrol’s last album Eyes Open.
And yet, there’s not that many bands achieving the simultaneous blend of spacious and personal the group has developed – Coldplay is their only serious competition here. Snow Patrol can easily and somewhat accurately be accused of pushing a similar commercially approved sound rather than stretching their musical borders – the same chief complaint often levied against Coldplay – but there’s a creative edge that manages to stick out more often in Snow Patrol’s work.
Frontman Gary Lightbody claims A Hundred Million Suns is a new direction for the band, and there are moments where it peeks out from beneath the comfort of the familiar, like on “Crack The Shutters,” kin to “Chasing Cars” from Eyes Open. Musically, the two songs share a good deal, but there’s an earnestness and an optimism present in “Crack the Shutters,” and indeed, all of the love songs on A Hundred Million Suns. Lightbody said this album was meant to be from the perspective of a working relationship, rather than an ending one, and he wears the happiness convincingly enough.
Lead single “Take Back The City” and album opener “If There’s A Rocket Tie Me To It” crackle with energy and feel fresh. Rounding out the first half of the album are the rootsy “Lifeboats” and the electronica-tinged “The Golden Floor,” which are nothing game-changing but seem to alter the expected sound at least slightly.
From there on, the album is done taking its risks, small as they were. You could find it unfortunate that almost all of the remaining tracks could find themselves nestled comfortably in a different Snow Patrol album, but for these guys, that’s kind of the point – a few single potentials that update the sound and plenty of familiarity to fill in the corners.
A Hundred Million Suns does end strongly with the 16-minute “The Lightning Strike.” A three-part story song, it’s not the opus its running time might suggest, but it’s not just a misguided attempt at artiness either. There’s substance here, particularly in the strong first part of this exercise in conflict-epiphany-resolution.
A Hundred Million Suns lives up to the rest of the material in the Snow Patrol canon – it’s neither standout nor stinker, but for the crowd that listens to Snow Patrol, it’s perfect.