If Final Straw introduced Snow Patrol to the mainstream and Eyes Open cemented the band's popularity, then A Hundred Million Suns is the group's ultimate bid for stardom, its slick production and sonic uplift designed to maintain Snow Patrol's place in the charts. Like "Chasing Cars," the mega-single from Snow Patrol's previous album, tracks like "Take Back the City" and "If There's a Rocket Tie Me to It" are slyly repetitive -- their hooks are cyclic, each comprising only a handful of notes, and their straightforward familiarity helps maximize the songs' singalong potential. But A Hundred Million Suns also features more curve balls than the band's past catalog, from "Lifeboats" (an icy love song with synthesizer glissandos and falsetto harmonies) to "The Golden Floor," whose handclap-and-stomp intro recalls the light hip-hop flavor of OneRepublic's "Apologize." This is where Snow Patrol sound best -- at the intersection between marketable pop/rock and something more challenging, whether it's an unexpected arrangement or an interesting melodic turn.
The band's appeal also owes a good deal to Gary Lightbody, who maintains his status as the least famous frontman of a very famous band. He's the boy next door, a musical Everyman who's just as average looking as Chris Martin and only half as desperately self-effacing. Looks may have little to do with an artist's music, but such appearances help ground Snow Patrol's music, even while "Take Back the City" and "Please Take These Photos from My Hands" reach for the same stars that U2 routinely grab. When A Hundred Million Suns focuses on music -- not saccharine radio fodder like "Chasing Cars," but actual music, with twists and turns that haven't been mapped out by generations of likeminded balladeers -- the album warrants Snow Patrol's existing fame, presenting a band that aspires to pop/rock grandeur without developing the accompanying ego.