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X & Y
Artist: Coldplay 
Label: Capitol 
Length: 12 tracks

There has been a lot of talk about this Coldplay album; probably too much talk. “They need to prove themselves.” “They need to make their Joshua Tree.” Third albums by bands who have done something interesting with their first two and gained popularity alongside it are put under too much pressure; way too much pressure. It has to be said that Coldplay haven’t helped themselves with their chat about wanting to be the best band in the world and all that. The musical landscape that they suggest such things is very different than the world into which that wee Dublin loudmouth Bono Vox first suggested the same for his band. 

All the hype apart, this is another great album from Coldplay. They are the kings of the piano ballad but have somehow made themselves into an anthemic stadium band with them. They have this ability to take seemingly simple killer tunes and give them the wings to soar in the big music. Talk even nicks an Edge echoing chiming guitar riff while ripping off an Kraftwork riff. 

Where Coldplay will need to develop to take on the U2s and the Radioheads will be in content. At the moment there is a lot of groping around and a searching of the future for meaning and most importantly for belonging. The opening "Square One" speaks about the first page and the concluding hidden "Til Kingdom Come" is about end. In between we seek love. The beautiful and sure fire hit "Fix You "shows an awareness of humanity’s brokenness and need for some redemptive work. A Message is steeped in Martin’s Christian upbringing stealing the hymnal majesty and mystery of "My Song Is Love Unknown." The extra track "Til Kingdom Come" also revives the familiar words of his old Church going days and was supposedly written for Johnny Cash. Without much imagination you can hear Cash and Rick Ruben sorting this one out for the sadly never to be next American Recordings album. That in itself is a hint that Coldplay are still heading to the summit and have arrived in terrain close to the pinnacle that few bands get to. 

Steve Stockman 7/27/2005

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal Truth in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at . He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine. 

After songs like "Yellow" and "Clocks" became ubiquitous, I kept waiting for the inevitable backlash that would result of the instant celebrity status that surrounded the band.  It came quickly ­ "Radiohead ripoffs," "pop pandering," "U2 wannabes", etc.  Yet there was something that compelled music fans about Coldplay, whether earnestness, or the return of the piano to rock music, or the spiritual nature of Chris Martin's lyrics, I'm not sure, but something about them drew you in.

On their third album, X & Y, Coldplay attempts to shake off the "Radiohead meets U2" label that has adhered itself to them, and instead relies on earlier influences from the '80's, such as Kraftwerk, New Order, and Kate Bush.  Granted there is the occasional channeling of the Edge on a few solos, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"Square One" is an obvious nod to New Order and synth-driven bands of the day, while "What If" is a piano ballad, possibly addressed to Gwyneth Paltrow, about the fear of losing love.  It is alternately moving and boring, depending on your mood, and uses simplistic rhymes not unlike early Police songs.

Insecurity and a search for reassurance seem to be the theme of the disc.  "Fix You," which is sung in much too high a key, falls along these lines, as does "The Hardest Part," which should donate royalties to Adam Clayton for its bass line.  "A Message" and "White Shadows," the best of the lot here, reveal some Echo & the Bunnymen in
Coldplay's background as well.

"Speed of Sound" was the first single, and owes a lot of its sound to "Clocks," from the last album.  That is one of the bigger problems with this disc ­ a lot of the songs seem to derive from each other. "Swallowed in the Sun" is basically a faster version of "What If" with different lyrics.  "Talk" is another U2/Echo based track that fares a
little better in translation.

After Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head, I was prepared to go over the top and become a total raving fanboy for Coldplay.  And truth be told, if it weren't for the bar they set for themselves with those albums, I'd probably have a more favorable opinion of X & Y.  The sad fact, though, is this album is Coldplay playing it much too safe. Their success came as a result of sounding new and different.  Without breaking new ground, they will fall into the same area as Keane and Blue Merle, and interest will fade (at least for me).  X & Y had me prepared for greatness, but unfortunately, it's just pretty good.

Brian A. Smith
9 August 2005

Expectations for Coldplay’s third album were high after the now classic masterpiece A Rush of Blood to the Head.  But their “everyday guy” status (despite Chris Martin’s Hollywood connections) has helped them remain confident in the musical space they mapped out on A Rush of Blood…. Unlike, say, Radiohead, whose mega-success saw them retreating into their art-school roots.  Coldplay’s confidence is evident from the beginning of X and Y, with Martin optimistically asking “You’re in control, is there anywhere you want to go?” over a high synthesizer wash.

That song, “Square One,” has an almost dance-track momentum (also heard in first single “Speed of Sound”), but as soon as the band proper kicks in, another noticeable thing about _X & Y_ is that the sound remains so close to U2’s, especially in Jonny Buckland’s guitars, digging industrially or splintering prettily like The Edge’s.  Listen to how closely the verse of “Low” -­pulsing bass, ephemeral chiming guitar ­ sounds like something from “The Unforgettable fire.”

Chris Martin’s way around a vocal melody hasn’t been lost either.  Many of the verses here are much more than simply paths to the choruses.  “What If” starts like “The Scientist,” with piano chords and the kind of melody that instantly conjures images of vast concert singalongs.  But the rest of the band is not content for Martin to keep the limelight, expanding, as on another stand-out slower number “Fix You,” the song into a grandiose sweep of sound.  In “Fix You,” as Martin slides up into falsetto, Buckland again asserts himself with a staccato guitar riff like a faster “Yellow” and with hints of early U2.

The other comparison to U2 is that, unlike so much of modern pop music that is preoccupied with sex, or sarcastic and pessimistic, Martin continues to write lyrics that are, while sometimes vague (Bono doesn’t escape that charge either), universally relevant.  Much of X & Y is concerned with communication and relationships.  This is particularly obvious in “Talk,” where Martin repeatedly implores simply “let’s talk”, and manages to sound at once majestic and intimate.  Pivoting on some more Edge-like guitar, and with deep and resonant backing, the song is one of the album’s two most monstrous tracks (the other being the more angular “White Shadows”).

The second half is not quite as momentous, but contains the gorgeous “Speed of Sound,” like a gentler “Clocks,” and with its chorus strangely paralleling Kate Bush’s '80s hit “Running Up That Hill.”  It also contains “The Hardest Part” - pseudo country-pop with a derivative opening that’s rescued by Martin’s way with a simple but memorable melody line, and the unlisted track “Til kingdom come” which shows Martin’s ability to tailor the songwriting for other singers (it was originally written for Johnny Cash -
note the casual but happy guitar strumming and unusually low vocal).

On some downbeat lyrics (“Everything I Know is Wrong,” from “The Hardest Part”), Martin is less than convincing, sounding instead assured and uplifting, the tone for the album as a whole.  While X & Y is not a leap like A Rush of Blood… was (and seriously, did we ever expect it could be?), it is, like its predecessor, a fine mix of musical integrity and pop appeal.  Yes, Coldplay remain happily middle-of-the-road, like a kind of 21st Century Dire Straits, because they are enjoyed by nearly everyone, not because they are less than able musicians.

Nick Mattiske 9/20/2005



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