Coldplay - X & Y
Alex Worsnip 06/06/2005
X & Y is an album of two halves. On one half (essentially almost all of the odd-numbered tracks), you have Coldplay's most sonically daring material yet, not flawless, but genuinely interesting, proving that they have evolved and are becoming a bona fide respectable rock band. On the other half, you have a pointless rehash of the worst aspects of their previous material - the kind of songs which mean that you aunt probably owns Coldplay albums. The new sound is slightly ambient, full of synth sweeps and a new, more effects-laden, less emptily floaty, guitar style. Of course at the heart of it its still Coldplay, with Chris Martin's lovely if sometimes one-dimensional voice topping it off. Although sometimes adding synth sweeps to song after song sounds like they found a new setting on their keyboard and got a little bit too excited, it does often work: witness 'Talk', which starts with the searing riff from Kraftwerk's 'Computer Love' and builds into a minor,
slightly dark electronic pop song that sounds like New Order meeting U2. Indeed, Coldplay are joining the ranks of those bands as established, ambitious bands that, although sometimes getting tiresome in their own style, and far more than indie strummers.
It works again on 'Speed of Sound', a perfectly executed single that, despite the nagging Clocks similarity, has a heart-melting chorus that ensure its peak is wonderful. Coldplay show that they do absorb what's going on in the music scene around them, first on 'White Shadows', which flirts with an almost angular guitar line, and best of all, on album highlight 'Low', with a masterful, almost icy, instrumentation,
filled with rhythm and tempo changes, building upon a mobile bass line and call and response guitars that are, bizarrely, straight out of Interpol's 'Obstacle 1'. Even the melody, usually the one constant thing across all Coldplay songs, is a bit different. It's only ruined by a slightly vacuous lyric about "floating in a big white balloon". This is a constant niggle: to go with the New Age-y keyboards we have New Age-y lyrics that mean very little indeed. Even closer 'Twisted Logic', Martin's attempt at unifying his well-publicised political stances with his music over an OK Computer-esque building wall of sound, still isn't particularly explicit or biting and includes a lot of slightly meaningless wordplay.
Far more of a problem, though, is the prevalence of rent-a-Coldplay ballads. Coldplay have always, even at their mostly plodding and MOR, had the virtue of blowing their peers that ape them out of the water, firstly, just because they do what they do better than anyone else, and secondly, because of Chris Martin's voice. But a couple of times they actually sound like those peers here: 'What If' sounds like Starsailor with its safely jazzy chords and rhyme-a-long lyrics, topped off by a
tune that sounds like it was constructed by a Coldplay machine. It's like The Scientist, hardly their finest moment in the first place, but not as good. Later, 'The Hardest Part' sounds like Keane, which truly confirms you're in sub-Coldplay territory. In between we get a consistent stream of uninteresting songs interspersed between the good ones. 'A Message' starts like it might be a return to the gorgeous lo-fi style of Parachutes (before Coldplay were trying to fill stadiums with overpolished piano ballads), albeit one that doesn't have the shimmering beauty of something like the gently entrancing 'Don't Panic', but soon leaves it for a knocked-up tune, "soaring" keyboards that by now are getting a bit old, and some U2-aping, delay-laden guitar.
Coldplay, then, have perhaps missed an opportunity. 'X & Y' was their opportunity to break out to create something more monumental than 'Parachutes', but less slick and safe than 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head'. They've got halfway, finding an interesting new sound but, despite some notable success, sometimes either merely coating recycled Coldplay in the new sound, or in fact failing to employ it at all and falling back on Rush of Blood-era B-sides, the kind of songs that we know Chris Martin (or, in fact, most songwriters) could knock out in
his sleep. Nevertheless, X & Y does contain some of Coldplay's best songs yet.