Declaring before its release that A Hundred Million Suns was going to be a game changer for their band may have left many of Snow Patrol‘s long term fans feeling a little short changed. There were hints of something else throughout the album – a more contemporary, less tried and tested feel; like the 16 minute long album closer ‘The Lightening’ – but these ideas never seemed to fully form. With the release of lively lead single ‘Called Out in the Dark’ back in August, fans and detractors alike were keen to see if this was an indicator that the band were about to deliver on their promise of a new, updated direction with their latest effort.
It needs to be said from the offset, that the new approach they’ve implemented here is unlikely to lose them any fans: the trademark emotional honesty is still present throughout; Lightbody’s vocals still soar through his lyrics during the more elated moments and croon during the quieter ones; and the proceedings are still surrounded by, at turns, loud, throbbing riffs, and slow, plucked guitar strings. What’s clear as album opener ‘I’ll Never Let Go’ rumbles to life, with vocals echoing across a meaty synth and distorted guitars, is that the band have indeed developed in the interim.
Much has been said of the overtly emotional nature of the band’s output, but here that sense of honesty is accompanied by a different set of musical values. There is obviously a residue of Americana left over from recording with Tired Pony, as Lightbody’s vocals on track ‘The Garden Rules’ show and ‘Berlin’ is unabashedly indebted to the more contemporary sound of Arcade Fire. In contrast to the more organic moments are tinges of electro-rock, noticeably uncharacteristic of the band. ‘Called Out in the Dark’ and ‘The Symphony’ are the best examples of how the band have evolved past their previous selves but it’s when these electronic elements are served alongside their trademark arena sound on tracks such as the titular ‘Fallen Empires’ or ‘I’ll Never Let Go’ that they work best.
Snow Patrol have a definitive album in them, and this falls short only because the new toys they have discovered haven’t fully meshed with the sturdy foundation they have cultivated during their career. While it’s good to see them step out of their comfort zone at times, it’s also refreshing to hear that they haven’t disregarded the reason for their popularity in the first place.