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.