Recorded in Westmeath and Berlin, the 5th album by this million-selling Northern Irish/Scottish band is one of those difficult albums to review. After the huge sales of the previous two releases, Final Straw and Eyes Open, Gary Lightbody’s sensitive rock is the kind of thing that you can rely on; humble, inoffensive, emotional music that you can sing along to, and with Coldplay going odd, they’re one of the few big soft rock bands left. With millions of sales so far, why change a winning formula?
Well, right from the off Snow Patrol want you to know they’ve worked very hard on this album – with Lightbody working harder than ever on his lyrics and all the musicians taking extra lessons and “playing out of their skin”. It’s easy however to be misguided by naff press releases, as the music generally speaks for itself. The first track, If There’s A Rocket Tie Me To It, is an upbeat song about affection, which sounds a little reminiscent of 2003 single, Run. The next track (and probable single) is piano-led, Crack the Shutters, another very straightforward love song and so far, its pretty much business as usual. The third track, Take Back The City, is a clunky rocker and probably supposed to show that they can crank it like the best of them, but not on this evidence.
Throughout the album there are flashes of clever production, strange echo-y sounds in the background, the effects-drenched Engines and the whack of a plant on a snare drum on the otherwise gentle The Golden Floor. Overall there’s slightly more interesting stuff going on in the periphery, but like the previous two albums, its Lighbody’s voice to the fore. Despite the work he’s apparently done on his lyrics, it still often dips into cliché, and add In a new obsession with space (with lots of lyrics about rockets, stars, suns, planets and skies) it can often be a bit cheesy. Lines like “I’m a peasant in your princess arms” need a good melody behind them, and luckily that’s where SP excel. Throughout A Hundred Million Suns the melodies drag mediocre songs up to standard, and on standout tracks, Lifeboats, Engines and the self-indulgent-but-interesting 16 minute (3-part) final track, The Lightning Strike, melody and music add up to the beautiful sound you would hope they would have grown into by now.
In their press release they also want you to know that “most bands would have taken a long, expensive holiday” instead of getting back to work like they did, and that this is the band’s “most ambitious and exhilarating collection so far”. It might be, but listening to the album you wish they threw caution to the wind more often, as there are flashes of brilliance every now and then, which remind you that behind the globe conquering, commercial façade there is still some semblance of an interesting little band struggling to be heard.