As a Northern Irishman, I always feel a faint hint of pride when I listen to Snow Patrol or see them gain chart recognition, as, despite their frequent mediocrity, they’ve come from being a fairly terrible student band playing universities up and down the British Isles to become well, massive. People have forgotten their awful earlier albums Songs for Polar Bears and When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up and embraced Final Straw and Eyes Open as genuine hits, and even the Americans have gone mental over ‘Chasing Cars’ after it appeared in Grey’s Anatomy. My greatest sense of pride, however, is that this Scottish/ Northern Irish band are able to make music with real instruments and, even without the aid of Timbaland, actually have a hit!
That said, A Hundred Million Suns is actually not bad. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible either, and that may perhaps be the problem. This album sounds a lot more polished and professional than the previous two, but retains the familiar four-to-the-floor sound they so often refer back to, as shown by the first single ‘Take Back The City.’ The album itself opens with an expansive, multi-layered piano intro which could lead to interesting places, but instead is joined by the standard Snow Patrol guitar riffs and drum beat, although who can blame them for not wanting to branch out too far? They’ve had success with this formula in the past and there’s nothing to suggest they won’t again, it’s just disappointing when a band who are perfectly placed to try something different in the charts miss that opportunity.
I think, however, that enjoyment of this album depends on whether you agree with this statement or not. Those who want to hear more of the same from the band will be pleased with songs like ‘Lifeboats’, ‘Please Just Take These Photos From My Hands’ and ‘Engines’, which continue in that familiar, every-song’s-a-hit, riffy vibe, which they’ve pretty much got down to a tee, while those of us who would like to hear something a bit different are left grasping at the admittedly very good ‘The Golden Floor’, with its tribal beat and darker, minor key undercurrents and ‘The Lightning Strike’, a 16-minute-long trilogy, with a piano and trumpet build-up leading into a dramatic crescendo. ‘Set Down Your Glass’ is a genuinely pretty song, with its arpeggiated acoustic guitar and exposed vocals creating what is a touching song, while the upcoming single ‘Crack The Shutters’ sits firmly in the Snow Patrol glockenspiel melody pouch, and will no doubt gain more chart recognition for the band.
‘The Lightning Strike’ may indeed be the innovative, almost prog sound I was looking for, and perhaps my indictment of Snow Patrol’s repetitivity is too harsh, however I feel that if a band sounds at their best when they’re playing music which is essentially different to what they usually play, I’m always inclined to wonder why they don’t play that new music all the time, making it a characteristic of their releases as opposed to a rare glimmer of innovation in a village of familiarity.
Although A Hundred Million Suns isn’t a bad record by any means, and perhaps I do expecttoo much from Snow Patrol, I can’t escape the all-pervading feeling that I’d heard this album long before it was released, but maybe next time things will be different. Perhaps even an acoustic release, now that would be something.