Coldplay’s first album was, no doubt, the culmination of years of built up material that Chris Martin couldn’t wait to put down on tape for the world to hear. After the success of Parachutes, the British four-piece avoided the sophomore slump with a fantastic second album that still showcased the sweeping, arena rock melodies and generous pop hooks that made Parachutes so enjoyable. It seemed like the natural progression from Parachutes. While the music was bigger on A Rush of Blood to the Head, it retained its moody vibe thanks to Martin’s melancholy lyrics about love and loss. Since then, Martin has married a movie star, spawned an Apple, and led a very public life that stands in stark contrast to the desolation that his music often speaks to.
The pressure riding on Coldplay to follow up with a great third album was palpable, especially considering record company EMI’s stock woes as a result of delays in releasing the album. While Chris Martin bemoans the horrors of stockholders and share prices, he clearly prefers his band to be the best in the world, and you can’t be the best without having a company’s fortunes riding on your success. With the release of the band’s third LP, X&Y, Coldplay has become safe, corporate rock—destined to put out an album once every couple of years, with an identifiable, branded sound that their record company can take to the bank.
So how is X&Y? For starters, the group’s sound has not evolved from A Rush of Blood to the Head (not necessarily a bad thing), and Chris Martin’s cheeseball lyrics have devolved album over album. Martin’s lyrics are a litany of bad clichés and high school metaphors. Every song seems to be bogged down with tedious ramblings like:
When you try your best but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can’t sleep
climb up, up in the trees
every chance that you get
is a chance you seize
You’ll go backwards
you’ll go forwards
you’ll go backwards
you’ll go forwards
Now, no one was ever going to accuse Chris Martin of being a one man Lennon and McCartney on the first 2 albums, but the lyrics always felt genuine and inspired. The lyrics on X&Y sound like they were written in between Apple’s midnight and 2 o’clock feedings. Martin touches on politics on “Twisted Logic”—“Created… then drilled and invaded/If somebody made it/Someone will mess it up,” but mostly sticks to writing personal songs.
As for the music, it’s entirely listenable pop rock with enough hooks and grabs to keep you listening. Specifically, “Speed of Sound”, “Talk” and “Low” provide great melodies to help drown out Martin’s self-important musings. The best song on the disc, though, isn’t even listed on the inlay card—“’Til Kingdom Come”, a song reportedly written for Johnny Cash before the Man in Black passed away in 2003. It shows what Coldplay is capable of when they aren’t so consumed with writing “Coldplay” songs.
Chris Martin has said in more than one interview how important it is for Coldplay to become as good as U2. If he means commercial success, Coldplay is certainly positioning itself well as a group able to compose AOR friendly tunes destined to keep their discs flying off the shelves. If he means musically, Coldplay will need to do a much better job on their next album. Whether you liked the different iterations that U2 underwent during their career or not, there is no denying that the group took chances. On X&Y, the group shows no signs of deviating from a script that they know sells records.
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