Meaningful expression vs. mass conception

Chelsea Cody

Welcome to the cruel world of commercial radio and popular music. Here independent and alternative artists are launched, some kicking and screaming, from stylish obscurity into the consumer-driven narcissistic realm of mainstream corporate music making.

Upon entering the ‘mainstream’ musicians and bands are pigeonholed and marketed in a manner meant to satisfy moneymaking standards. This can result in their feeblest or least evocative work becoming their greatest success. Sadly, entry into the domain of popular culture requires a certain branding and much of the music selected for mass distribution is scarcely representative of an artist or their best efforts.’ This has been the plight of the indie Irish band, Snow Patrol.

Hurled from the shadows of the musical fringe into the limelight in 2006 when their first US single, ‘Chasing Cars,’ was used in the season finale of ABC’s primetime soap, ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ Snow Patrol’s album ‘Eyes Open’ consequently went platinum. And the refrain ‘If I lay here/if I just lay here/ would you lie with me and just forget the world?’ was cemented in the minds of radio listeners the world over. The sudden success of ‘Chasing Cars’ and of their 2006 effort Eyes Open set a difficult standard for the band’s next musical endeavor.

Whether or not ‘A Hundred Million Suns,’ the band’s most recent release, has achieved the level of success necessary to live up to popular expectations is debatable.’ However, balancing personal musical aesthetics and simultaneously satisfying a vast and diverse audience is no small task, if not impossible. Listening to ‘A Hundred Million Suns,’ Snow Patrol’s struggle to please everyone, quickly becomes apparent.

Lead singer and band songwriter Gary Lightbody devotes a number of songs to investigating the comic foolishness of romance and intimacy. This exploration consumes a number of tracks on A Hundred Million Suns. The songs, ‘If There’s a Rocket Tie Me to It,’ ‘Crack the Shutters,’ ‘Set Down Your Glass,’ and ‘The Planets Bend Between Us’ all look inward at the difficult and sometimes ridiculous nature of the human connection. In this respect, the album carries over the themes from the band’s previous hit, ‘Chasing Cars.’
However, the album’s theme becomes disjointed as it progresses from the opening tracks, emphasizing topics and ideas that stray from the initial lyrical and musical impression, perhaps signaling a personal digression or direction that the band wished to explore but could not fully express in this endeavor. The tracks, ‘Take Back the City,’ ‘Disaster Button’ and the 16 minute, three-movement closing track, ‘The Lightening Strike,’ all break away from the narrower theme of individual love.

This collection of songs could be viewed as a personal and artistic effort towards transition and growth. Consider the album a band’s attempt to move away from the radio jamming success of a popular but illusory song to be more innovative and to produce individually meaningful work.’ Unfortunately, in this Snow Patrol does not fully succeed. The band could not muster the courage to depart from the styles and ideas that brought them success in order to produce an album representative of their growth and creativity since their ‘Chasing Cars’ success. ‘A Hundred Million Suns’ is a record whose creators are straddling the musical fence without the nerve or means to pick a side.

Three stars out of five.