Song of the Day: The Lightning Strike (Part I: “What If This Storm Ends?”) by Snow Patrol

Falling Woman by andrework on deviantART

“The Lightning Strike” is a song from alternative rock band Snow Patrol’s fifth album A Hundred Million Suns, and appears as the last track on the album.

Lyrics:

What if this storm ends?
And I don’t see you
As you are now
Ever again

A perfect halo
Of gold hair and lightning
Sets you off against
The planet’s last dance

Just for a minute
The silver forked sky
Lit you up like a star
That I will follow

Now it’s found us
Like I have found you
I don’t want to run
Just overwhelm me

What if this storm ends?
And leaves us nothing
Except a memory
A distant echo

I want pinned down
I want unsettled
Rattle cage after cage
Until my blood boils

I want to see you
As you are now
Every single day
That I am living

Painted in flames
All peeling thunder
Be the lightning in me
That strikes relentless

What if this storm ends?
And I don’t see you
As you are now
Ever again

A perfect halo
Of gold hair and lightning
Sets you off against
The planet’s last dance

Just for a minute
The silver forked sky
Lit you up like a star
That I will follow

Now it’s found us
Like I have found you
I don’t want to run
Just overwhelm me

……

The lyrics to the song were written by lead singer Gary Lightbody and the music was composed by Snow Patrol. The song is composed of three smaller songs and, at sixteen minutes and eighteen seconds, is the longest the band has released yet.

The song has an elaborate live performance where a specially made animation is played simultaneously as the band performs the song. Most of the video features origami, which is the main artwork for the album and its singles. The song received a mixed reaction when the album was released, and though the band were praised for playing it live, the general feeling was that it wasn’t a right choice, with one critic calling it “self-indulgent” but forgivable.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, lyricist Gary Lightbody revealed the song was conceived after he was caught in a heavy storm one night in Glasgow: “I was pretty terrified – 150-mile-an-hour winds, trees falling down. But we went outside the house, and it was also just thrilling. There was this howling wind, but it felt like silence, as if our senses were being too bombarded to cope with what was going on. So the record was born out of that feeling, of two people having a protective shell around each other. I’m not saying there’s not darkness in there still, but it’s happening from outward factors more than inward. Maybe things are terrifying, but they’re beautiful, too. The world is extremely surprising”.

“We can’t write a 16-minute song just like that, as it takes an almost zen-like state to achieve without losing your place or going quite mad.” Gary Lightbody

In August 2008, Lightbody joked about the song in a press release on the band’s website, which revealed the track-listing for the then unreleased album: “The last song is sixteen-minutes long and by far the longest we’ve ever done. Don’t be frightened though, it’s great. Although, for now, you’ll have to take my word for that and I’m pretty biased I have to say”. At the time of the release of the album, SP.com posted a section featuring Gary Lightbody discussing the new songs, which was initially a Lightbody interview to RTÉ. The interview revealed that the song was initially three different songs. However, the band felt that they “worked so well together it was obvious they belonged in one place”. He elaborated more on the fact in another interview with The Sun: “Just in case anybody gets frightened that we have a 16-minute song, it’s a song in three parts, that we really wanted to be married together in a strange ceremony. I don’t have the concentration span to write a 16-minute song. I get bored easily. But each song of the three seemed to explain the other one a lot better and they were all written around the same time and so I guess it’s an unusual way of presenting them.”

Music video

“The Lightning Strike” has an elaborate live performance, with the band playing the song in the backdrop of a projection screen, on which a specially made video is played simultaneously; one such performance on YouTube, at the Pinkpop Festival at Megaland, Landgraaf, theNetherlands, is available via the band’s VEVO YouTube channel.

The idea for the video was conceived by Gary Lightbody. Snow Patrol’s tour video director Blue Leach collaborated with production company Atticus Finch to create the video, which represents Lightbody’s idea to represent the world as origami. Finch brought Undabo Studios into the project to “help develop an origami style of modeling and texturing” that appears on the album artwork for A Hundred Million Suns.

The video’s theme uses a colorful visual language; the birth and development of a star, a spiralling galaxy, and its millions of pieces, which flow smoothly into each other; the formation of space, birds, animated rockets, satellites, fishes, havens, oceans, boats, cities, landscapes, rainbows, cars, and planets and many other visual impressions. The “CGI origami” gig features the band members themselves performing as origami figures. The video was made using Autodesk Softimage and took about three months to make. It consists of 24,000 frames of animation and is played of a 60×40 ft. projection screen in live performances for the first 6 minutes, which then moves to LED screens suspended behind the band.

Director Blue Leach later won the “TPi Award” in 2009 for his work with Snow Patrol, amongst others.

Full animated version

The full sixteen-minute animated video for “The Lightning Strike”, which was previously unavailable saw its official release as a part of Up to Now, the band’s third compilation album. The video can be found on the bonus DVDs of the Digipak and box-set releases of the album.

“What If This Storm Ends?” animated version

A four-minute animated video on YouTube for the “What If This Storm Ends?” was uploaded by the band onto YouTube. Like videos for live performances, the video features an elaborate animation involving origami.

Reception

The song received a generally mixed reception at the time of album release. Spin called it “dramatic”. Rolling Stone was quite positive about the song, saying “the band distinguishes itself from the post-Coldplay pack with a flair for arrangements that almost justifies the grandiosity of 16-minute epics like “The Lightning Strike””.

PopMatters’ response was very positive. Reviewer Ross Langager called the song “a 16-minute, three-movement celestial metaphor of operatic grandeur and overwhelming beauty”. He further praised the song, saying: “Linked together by alike synthesizer bedrocks of gradually increasing warmth and brightness, the song-cycle progresses from silver-lined dark clouds to hints of dawn before finally settling on a lovely, sun-drenched morning. But even when faced by such an inexorable process of hopefulness, Lightbody has to temper the surge of light: “Slowly the day breaks/Apart in our hands””.

The Independent’s Andy Gill, however, had mixed feelings about the song. He said that the song was an attempt to “broaden the band’s style”. He called it ambitious and felt that “its incorporation of minimalist techniques, glockenspiel, brass colouration and shoegazey guitar textures” made the song “lengthy”. He made comparisons with Coldplay, calling the band “self-absorbed” but said Snow Patrol were “more bearable”.

On the other hand, Pitchfork Media’s Joshua Love reviewed the song negatively, writing that it seemed as if the band was “striving to be taken more seriously”, by “stringing together three ponderous, already-overlong songs and calling the impenetrable result a 16-minute stand-alone epic “The Lightning Strike””. He further wrote that the band’s wasn’t talented enough to do justice to “these newer, more artful ambitions”.

Live-performance reception

Critical reception of the live performance has been generally mixed as well, though the band has been praised for playing it. Contactmusic.com reviewed a Snow Patrol concert at the M.E.N. Arena on 7 March 2009. Though it called the song “ambitious by anyone’s standards” and praised the animation calling it “impressive”, it felt the song wasn’t the best choice for an encore.[24] WalesOnline’s Paul Rowland wrote a review of the gig at Cardiff International Arena the next day. He praised the song, calling it a “three-movement epic”. He reported that, though the song was a welcome change in the encore, some fans did not appreciate it and headed home: “After all, they’d already heard “Run”, and the traffic’s awful this time of night”. The same happened at a free gig at iTunes Festival 2009 at The Roundhouse in London. In The News, Chris Jefferies reported that the band had to play the song to a “half-empty crowd”, but had praise for the band saying “there is much, much more to this band”.

Durham21’s Ian Church covered the next gig on 10 March at the Metro Radio Arena. He reported that for the encore, a large semi-transparent sheet was dropped in front of the stage, to project the animation. He said that it was “surprising” the band chose to play the “practically unknown” song, but reported that “it somehow managed to capture those watching” but a few fans were left complaining about the song choice. Journal Live also covered the concert, with Helen Dalby writing that it was “interesting” and “different” for the band to play the song, but she wasn’t “entirely sure it quite worked”. She felt the song might have worked if it was played earlier in the set.

Evening Standard’s Amira Hashish covered the last concert at The O2 and wrote a positive review about the performance of the song, though she felt to song(s) was “lesser known”; but, she felt the band brought them to life and, though it was “a little self-indulgent”, the band could be forgiven.

James Cabooter of Daily Star, who covered the show at Bloomsbury Theatre wrote that the newer material (including “The Lightning Strike”) was deeper and more mature sonically.

The full song was used in “Don’t Cry for Me, Albuquerque”, an episode of In Plain Sight, in 2009, while the first part of the song, “What If This Storm Ends?”, appeared in a 2011 trailer for the war movie Act of Valor, starring real-life Navy SEALs, and in the trailers to the 2013 animated film Epic.

Snow Patrol

Origin Dundee, Scotland
Genres Alternative rock, power pop, post-Britpop, indie rock
Years active 1994–present
Labels Fiction/Interscope
Jeepster
Electric Honey
Associated acts Shrug, Iain Archer, Belle & Sebastian, The Reindeer Section,File Under Easy Listening, Terra Diablo, The Cake Sale, Little Doses,Listen… Tanks!, Tired Pony
Website snowpatrol.com
Members Gary Lightbody
Nathan Connolly
Paul Wilson
Jonny Quinn
Johnny McDaid
Past members Tom Simpson
Mark McClelland
Michael Morrison

image by andrework

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