On Battle for the Sun, the band utilize new instruments, such as trumpets and saxophones. Molko even experimented with the Springtime (experimental electric guitar made by Yuri Landman). The material has influences from such bands as PJ Harvey and My Bloody Valentine. It is a heavier-sounding record compared to its predecessor. Frontman Brian Molko said on the concept of the album:
We've made a record about choosing life, about choosing to live, about stepping out of the darkness and into the light. Not necessarily turning your back on the darkness because it's there, it's essential; it's a part of who you are, but more about the choice of standing in the sunlight instead.
Molko has also stated that Battle for the Sun is the band's first album with a discernible thematic unity. Molko states that his favourite track from the album is "Speak in Tongues".
Molko was inspired to write bonus track "Unisex" by the movie Cloverfield.
The mastered album features a slight peculiarity on track 9 ("Julien"): the vocals are doubled for a short duration, with a phrase, sung in low volume, preceding itself. Such artifacts can stem from a variety of sources such as production errors, or from encoding within the .mp3 or .mp4 formats, both of which suffer from just such a flaw.
The album was released as a download, CD, limited edition CD and DVD, LP, and a limited edition box set.
The box set features the full album plus two extra studio tracks, a CD to access exclusive live recorded tracks, a DVD of the December 2008 Angkor Wat performance, a DVD of exclusive studio footage and a 32 page photo book featuring exclusive artwork, photos and handwritten lyrics as well as the full album on 2 x Heavy Vinyl LP.
The title track debuted on Zane Lowe's BBC Radio 1 show 17 March 2009. After the world première, it became available for free download on the band's official site.
At an exclusive secret gig held on 17 March 2009, in London, the band played a number of new songs from the album, including the tracks "Ashtray Heart", "Julien", "Kitty Litter", and "Devil in the Details". They also covered Nik Kershaw's "Wouldn't It Be Good".
The album was made available for streaming on the band's official website between 29 May and 31 May 2009.
Eddie Fleisher of Alternative Press gave the album 4 and a half out of 5 stars. He wrote that Battle for the Sun "takes the best elements of their sound and focuses it into a cohesive listening experience ... there's no filler to be found". The review also notes how Steve Forrest as drummer gives the band a much-needed kick and how Brian Molko's lyrics are given more clarity. Fleisher also says the album contains two of the best Placebo songs ever, "Happy You're Gone" and "Kings of Medicine".Metacritic gave the album a score of 62/100 based on 17 professional reviews indicating "generally favorable reviews". Others however, have been less than receptive. NME said that Battle for the Sun was "a desperately transparent copy of originality. For those who still believe in them, Placebo will, at least, remain an efficacious live band at festivals this summer, but only given that the real thing (Suede, Muse, David Bowie, Nirvana et al) isn't currently on offer.".Rolling Stone added that "too many songs ("Devil in the Details") are full of bombast and bland angst, as if these smart guys know better but can't help themselves".