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CD REVIEW: Coldplay, X&Y

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Coldplay have some pretty big shoes to fill, namely their own. Their last album, the sophmoric A Rush of Blood to the Head, was a tour-de-force of dynamism and soaring anthems—in every way, a growth from their debut. In fact, it was so good it was completely overplayed, which lead to my eventual falling out with the group. They were just too big, in too many places, on too many soundtracks, and in too many retail outlets for me to continue to like them. Thus, it was with baited breath that I awaited their next album, hoping that they’d continue to grow and I’d get to hear something new. What a waste of time.

X&Y is meant to be Coldplay’s next big step, their final ticket from packed clubs to crowded arenas. As such, Chris Martin made sure every song has a soaring chorus, and big major-key swells, ironic twists of phrase, and of course Martin’s now-trademark falsetto.

Of course, we got such things from Keane last year. Despite its similar homogeneity, Hopes and Fears was more assured, the production more humble, and the overall effort a lot more interesting than X&Y. The market for piano-drive Brit Pop is fairly saturated, and Coldplay is just dripping into a full bucket.

Coldplay, though has name recognition. While it has taken months for Keane to make a splash, Coldplay are virtually assured a massive welcome from the eager music public—the near-orgasmic panting tracks like “Clocks” or “The Scientist” received from teenaged girls and college boys desperate for something that wasn’t Fiddy Cent or Linkin Park was simply over the top (again, why Coldplay fell out of favor with me). That name recognition, along with the reams of free press they’ve received from CNN, Slate, MTV, VH1, Fox News, E!, and other “news” outlets guarantees that everyone knows the album is coming out, and that guarantees millions in sales.

Which is too bad, because there really isn’t much here. Much like the Linkin Park conundrum, Coldplay can’t escape a good thing. It sounds as if one good arena pop song was written, then sped up or slowed down 12 times and released as an album. When playing it for some friends, one commented, “Oh, this is the fourth track? When did the first one end?” All of the songs are uniformly pleasant, uniformly bland, and uniformly boring. The huge swell in “Square One,” for example, mirrors almost exactly the huge swell in “Politik,” and I have a hard time telling the two apart.

This is a huge loss, because it appears as if they might actually have something interesting to say. Their first two albums made up for the occaisonal ennuie with some lyrical aptitude. The first track ends with Martin crooning, “Is there anybody out there who / Is lost and hurt and lonely too / Are they bleeding all your colours into one / And if you come undone .” Well. Nevermind.

It’s possible for such a bland start to be redeemed by good songs elsewhere, but it just isn’t. “What If” is full of similar major-key soar, laden with high-school sentimentality worthy of a Gwen Stefani solo project. Ditto “White Shadows,” though it does us the service of adding a tiny bit of distortion to Jonny Buckland’s Edge impersonation. There are some admittedly enjoyable parts, like the bridge to “Fix You” (a horrendous ode to co-dependency if I ever heard one), or the mild thrash of “Twisted Logic.” Yet the amount of generic filler one must wade through (“X&Y,” “The Speed of Sound”) to find these fun parts is way too much for a band, even a band like Coldplay, to ask. Considering the amount their website brags about how it took 18 months of “marathon work,” you’d think there would be something to show. Instead, we are given another U2 impersonator, only less political (Martin reserves that for his off-stage work with Gweneth Paltrow). It is U2 only without any soul, any spirituality.

In short, it’s a microcosm of the mainstream music business today. Well produced, pleasant sounding pap, all calories and no nutrition. It’s difficult to tell the songs apart, difficult to tell the sounds apart from other Brit bands like Keane and U2, and difficult to escape the smothering mass of sameness that permeates all 12 tracks. It makes sense that suddenly bands like Arcade Fire and Rilo Kiley, groups who would normally be consigned to Indie Purgatory by the gatekeepers of the music industry, have become so popular—they offer an escape from the crap the major groups are putting out. Can you tell the difference between Weezer’s recent work and the Blue Album? How about U2? Linkin Part? Hell, Britney Spears? They all sound the same, with no growth, no change, no evolution, no excitement.

X&Y is what’s wrong with the music industry. It will make boatloads of money, because it is Coldplay and that is a money name. But it is not worth the $17. Not by a long shot. Borrow it if you must, but do not waste your money.

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About Josh Foust

  • http://spaces.msn.com/members/dorksandlosers Tan Hoang

    Whoa. Pretty surprising review since I’ve read a lot of positive reviews for X&Y. Gonna buy the album tomorrow so I’ll take a listen for myself. But then again I hated Revenge of the Sith and lots of critics loved it. Shows that some things can be disappointing.

  • http://www.google.com Pleased

    I didn’t spend the 17 bucks you mentioned, only 9, and I must say that I disagree with your review. Having finished my first complete listen to X&Y, which I purchased at midnight, I am more than happy. Coldplay is one of my favorite bands, and it has been since 2000. But back then, it wasn’t as “hip” to like them. I got a lot of flack for liking them at the time. BUt I still listened to my Parachutes CD constantly. RUSH OF BLOOD followed and I must agree, became too overplayed. I began to hear Coldplay everywhere. And like you, I stopped listening. For about a year and a half. I began listening to their music again about a year ago. And became more and more excited for their new CD. I will try to block out the mass-love that will almost definitely follow and try to enjoy the music on my own. X&Y is a fantastic piece of music. A third bullseye for the band. It’s absolutely beautiful…and of course, it will become overplayed. It will be in about 10 movies in 2006. It will be in commercials. Their Concerts will sell out in minutes.

    But I’ll try to ignore all that and listen with my eyes closed.

  • BRICKLAYER

    Good point about the new Weezer album. You’d think with all those brains and all that time between albums, I’d remember more than one song after listening to it 10 times (not in a row, I was listening to Cattle Decapitation and the new Kelly Clarkson in between plays).

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    It’s only $13.49 on Amazon; who on earth pays $17 for a CD any more?

  • BRICKLAYER

    I believe its ten bucks at best buy and target also.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    who on earth pays $17 for a CD any more?

    i do, but that’s because a) i like to support my local dinky record shop and b) i find buying stuff online to be a boring and unfulfilling experience.

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    You’re not into pron then?

  • BRICKLAYER

    When you’re out picking up the new Coldplay, make sure to also pick up a copy of the New Avenged Sevenfold also. Take it home, put on your leather pants and eyeliner, and get your goth metal rock on. I know I will.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    brick, at this very moment i am listening to Avenged Sevenfold’s City of Evil (review this week, maybe). very cool stuff.

    goes down a little easier than Cattle Decapitation.

  • BRICKLAYER

    Cool Mark, I’m gonna pick it up later today. Haven’t heard any of it yet, but I have and dig their first two, so I’m sure I will dig it! And Mrs. Bricklayer will just love watching me dance to it in the chaps and corpse paint.

  • bryan

    Reviews are subjective, whether you like it or not. What works for some, is seen as trash by others. Who cares what other people think about a particular art form. Its how YOU feel about the art that determines the success of the album / painting / film / book.
    Art in all forms speaks to the soul. Since every soul is unique, so will every reaction to the art be.

  • Sam

    Where is there no sole? I suppose you would be one to have gone to New York’s Central Park and walk through out Christo’s “The Gates” and ask how is this art and why would anyone want to spend the millions of dollars that he did to create such “poles with flags”. Though, it is virtues my friend, and though Coldplay’s new album is not like their last album it for every right should not be for it is what the obviously felt during that time and the virtues their music. It does not take someone of gifted means to look into something and see what they do not like, by your words in which you wrote above your examples were not to the details of what your feelings were. Have you tried to look past the sound and into the touch of the guitars? Or the breath and lungs of Chris’s vocals? There are such virtues of dialog in the songs of X&Y that have in fact brought the band to what Coldplay as in individual band should be. Nevertheless, an individual can only connect with arts within their relative connection of life, and for many I assume a connection may not be found with in or comprehend Coldplay’s latest album. For minds were already tainted by the automatic expectations of A Rush Of Blood To The Head, as you in fact compared yourself in the article. The act of discovery in this situation was already non existent and unfortunately lost before any sound from the album was herd. Close your eyes my friend, leave all that is relative and of comparison (meaning Keane and U2) and sit with the words and sounds of the band as they are, and walk through it as if you had never seen a post card of the Grand Canyon and one day on a stole you found it yourself.

  • http://www.conjecturer.com/weblog Josh

    My primary complaints against this album can be summed up in this way:

    1) It represents no growth. Rush of Blood was a huge leap ahead of Parachutes. X&Y is not any leap at all in terms of songwriting, instrumentation, arrangement, or production.

    2) It is monotonous. Rush of Blood and Parachutes features good, flowing anthems AND gentle acoustic numbers. Every song on X&Y is formulaic and derivative — when you can time the “explosion of sound” to almost the same minute/second mark in each track, I find it hard to take an entire album of such music seriously

    3) Combine the two above, and I declare it soul-free. It is Coldplay’s big grab at big(ger) dollars, nothing more. It isn’t an expression of art, unless art suddenly became a sound U2 invented 19 years ago with words Chris Caraba could have written for a 13-year old girl.

    I guess if I did as Sam suggests, and forget everything they derived their music from, it would sound better. But that is no way to approach music, is it? Music’s power comes from its inspiration, but also its innovation. If a band doesn’t innovate at all, they become stagnant, grinding out similar sounding material of progressively less interest.

    Aside from its unoriginality, X&Y is just not innovative or challenging in any way. Coldplay’s first two albums were. Hence my disappointment.

  • Dave

    I completely disagree with the review in question. To say that Coldplay is “what’s wrong with music industry” is inaccurate, absurd, and seemingly uninformed. I am amazed that someone like Mr. Foust, who clearly has musical knowledge enough to be paid for his insights on the subject, could make such a rediculous claim. Don’t mistake this response for that of an over-sensitive fan who can’t take healthy criticism of a band he loves. On the contrary, I’ve read some great criticisms of Coldplay, some which have, ironically, inspired Coldplay to make some positive changes (ie. changing their setlist after hearing it was considered to full of slow songs.) Nonetheless, to say Coldplay is what is wrong with the music industry is a claim devoid of any form of logic. If anything, Coldplay is what’s right with the music business: They are a band who is perfectly comfortable with who they are, write about what they know about, don’t try to be something they’re not, and willingly share their admiration of other bands and the inspiration they receive from them. Can you honestly say that 10, 20, maybe even 30 years from now, if Coldplay remains on their current trajectory, their music won’t be the “classic rock” of the future, and maintain a healthy, fan base for years to come. Sorry Mr. Foust, but no matter how much money may be “involved” a british band cannot buy a top ten debut in the United States (Speed Of Sound #8), a feat accomplished only by the Beatles with Hey Jude in 68′.

  • http://www.conjecturer.com/weblog Josh

    Wait, I get paid for this?

    Oh, and if you reread what I actually said, I wrote “X&Y is what’s wrong with the music industry.” This album, this one album. And that’s because it’s boring, dry, uninteresting, spaced out. It is nothing U2 didn’t do 15 years ago on The Joshua Tree.

    Now, U2 is something worth considering classic rock. They’ve perfected a sound, and that they keep repeating it on their albums isn’t necessarily something to get all angry at. But when Coldplay apes that sound, and ladens an entire album with it (what happened to their great, folksy, acoustic numbers? They were subsumed for the commercialized “arena” sound they want to cultivate), you cannot be surprised when people complain.

    If X&Y is an indication of what Coldplay will be like in the future — generic songs stuffed full of generic lyrics — then it is most surely not absurd to be disappointed. Coldplay held such promise, and their other two albums had a dynamism that is just absent here.

    Despite that, Coldplay could still be great band. They’d just have at least one bad album to their name. It’s not a crime, but neither should peoply shy away from calling it what it is — boring, and a waste of money. That they sell records means nothing as far as I’m concerned — Black Eyed Peas sell albums, and they make filth. In fact, I think Coldplay’s rapid success is what tanked them creatively. They are under so much pressure to make money with this album, they couldn’t stray from the Clocks formula.

    We all lose when that happens. Remind me again why this is an absurdist position?

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    Can you honestly say that 10, 20, maybe even 30 years from now, if Coldplay remains on their current trajectory, their music won’t be the “classic rock” of the future

    30 years from now, nobody will remember a note that Coldplay put out. seriously.

  • Dave

    First, I am sorry for incorrectly stating you (Mr. Foust) were paid for your review, I misunderstood what kind of site this was. Second, the “classic rock of the future” comment I understand may have seemed a little far fetched, but I was just trying to illustrate the fact that three no. 1 albums, and a #8 debut of a British band’s single in US charts seems to constitute a trajectory which, if maintained, would put any band in a realm of great renown for years to come, IF it is indeed maintained. I also did not mean to put words in your mouth, you certainly did say “X & Y is what is wrong with the music industry today…” a claim which coupled with your logic makes more sense, but I still disagree wholeheartedly. To me, the sound of Coldplay is like an incredibly well-built guitar, which can make misplaced chords or sequences sound damn good. Even the most basic, or seemingly uncreative sound structures, when expresed through the Coldplay sound become magnificent. In any event, their sound is consistently dense and full, it’s a stylistic path the band has taken. While the inclusion of soundscapes and other fast, repetitive guitar blasts may seem like a lack of creativity to some, I would say that these kinds of elements (among other things) make Coldplay Coldplay. With X & Y I think Coldplay has made excellent songs that sound like Coldplay, which to me is a great thing. I really just can’t see the infiltration of music industry pressures into this album the way you, and others can. They took their sweet time, and delayed the release. The band created an entire album they intended on releasing and started completely over. They did this A SECOND TIME, before finally creating a “third album” which they wanted to realease. While this may not be unrelated to music industry pressures, I don’t think this had a negative impact on the music. If anything it helped them flourish.

  • Ark

    I’m sorry, but I have to come out and say that most of you people are idiots. I only agreed with two of the comments here. First thing…where the hell did we get of the subject of the review into being a goth just by leather and avenged sevenfold…secondly…who the hell listens to cattle decapation, the worst/heaviest death mmetal band IN THE WORLD, and then listens to Kelly Clarkson and COldplay? You are messed up.

    Now, I am not a die-hard Coldplay fan..don’t get me wrong, but I do enjoy them very much, well love them i guess, whatever. And I agree wtih you that they are definately overplayed. It is very true, they are. But where the f*ck do you come off complaining [Deleted] that they’re unskilled and uncreative and the music is horrible? For damn’s sake the able was awesome!!! They’re fantastic live…I know…I saw them….The type of arrogancy displayed here just by complaining about something that they could never even be able to attempt because they’re living in their moms basement watching star trek and making opther artists, bands, and any other type of media person fell worse about everything they do. That’s not what “critics” do. They listen to the msic, do research, and help them by telling them what to improve, not to kiss their ass or tell them they suck, go home.

    I mean I could understand if it was ashley simpson or cattle decapataion or some lousy pop/screamo idiot group, but when you have a band that has a striking resemblence to U2/Beatles, but still is creative and unique, and just because of you’re lack of enjoyment and constant boredom, you decide to put ur star trek dvd down for a moment, and insult bands, [Deleted]…it’s people like you who are making america look the way they look…I’m so glad i was bron in Iceland…

  • http://www.conjecturer.com/weblog Josh

    But at least I’m not Coldplay!

    Also, read the commenting policy.

  • jaci

    everyone has different taste. how dare you write that X&Y is what is wrong with the music industry. you are what is wrong so fuck you very much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!