The album-tour-album-tour treadmill claims many victims creatively: leave too short a space between and there's the danger of the half-baked; leave too long and it's the same thing. Throw in major success just two years ago with an album (and the one before that, too) and the pressure piles on. But if Snow Patrol felt any of this, it doesn't sound like it.

Described by singer Gary Lightbody as their "most complete record by far", 'A Hundred Million Suns' follows the template of 2006's 'Eyes Open' and 2003's 'Final Straw' - balancing the stadium and the intimate. But, crucially, Lightbody and co are getting more interesting as a band.

Away from the energy rushes of 'If There's a Rocket Tie Me to It', 'Take Back the City', 'Please Just Take These Photos from My Hands' and 'Disaster Button', the strongest material is to be found. 'The Golden Floor', where Lightbody frames the pleasure of the present and a fearlessness of time passing, ranks with their atmospheric best - acoustic guitars and handclap-style beats fading in and out as if echoing the words. 'Set Down Your Glass' is its equal, another heart-on-sleeve song that combines big sentiments and small sounds and sparkles more with familiarity.

Throughout the album, Lightbody does his finest work as a lyricist, and there are lines as much as chords that stick in the memory. Opening with, "Two weeks later, like a surplus reprieve, I found a hair the length of yours on my sleeve," the feeling that every verse and chorus has been a late night slog rather than a studio rush is a constant to the close.

And at the end, Lightbody and his bandmates show the extent of their ambition as songwriters. 'The Lightning Strike' lasts 16 minutes and consists of three movements where he uses the power of the elements as a chronicle of a relationship.

The first part, 'What If the Storm Ends?', is propelled by pounding drums and breathless vocals as emotions and questions rise up. The second, 'The Sunlight through the Glass', mixes what sounds like a piano loop with distorted bass and clicking-then-huge percussion, its effect heightened by the lines, "These accidents of faith and nature, they tend to stick in the spokes of you. But every now and then the trend bucks and you're repaired by more than glue." Uplift arrives with the finale, 'Daybreak', as sweet and optimistic as its title suggests, building with a dance-like beat and then powering forward with a whistling guitar.

Some may contend that the three should sit together better, perhaps, but the sense of adventure here is the most rewarding thing on 'A Hundred Millions Suns' and means the record closes with that goldust emotion: the hope for more.

So, a journey worth taking, and worth taking on a journey. Those who've fallen for Snow Patrol's 'lovers' rock' in the past will find nothing to disappoint here. And those who've always contended they've even better in them will only be more sure of it.

Harry Guerin