Tuesday, June 7


It's out today. I haven't heard it yet, but here's some reviews:

Pitchfork Media gives it 4.7 out of 10.
"Don't Panic", the opening track of Coldplay's first album, drew its title from the famous motto of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels. Two albums later, it seems they chose the wrong Adams catchphrase; most of their recorded output is better exemplified by the Guide's description of Earth: "Mostly harmless." In their seven years together, Coldplay have risen to monumental levels of popularity on a potent mixture of nice-guy charm, serviceable songwriting, and general inoffensiveness. Unfortunately, these aren't the kind of traits that often lead to interesting music. Not that the band hasn't taken the occasional stabs at creativity and innovation; it's just that those attempts have always been carefully measured, or even nervously self-conscious.

Coldplay have never seemed intent on world domination, but as their early singles caught on, journalists came waving raves. Then, with nearly 5 million copies of Parachutes sold worldwide and their popularity on the upswing, the band's sophomore album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, found the band unsure of how to advance. Luckily for them, their decision to virtually recreate Parachutes on a larger budget paid off commercially: The album got them tagged as "the next U2," a ridiculously off-base coronation that ignores the fact that U2 recorded "I Will Follow", "New Year's Day", "Bad", and The Joshua Tree, among others, before they wandered off into the MOR wilderness.

Coldplay, meanwhile, started in the middle of the road and haven't strayed since. Granted, they've produced a handful of good songs-- "Don't Panic", "Shiver", and "The Scientist" are all fine achievements, while "Clocks" remains a great piano part in search of an equally great melody-- but their albums have yet to justify the critical hyperbole, and their third full-length, X&Y, isn't going to be the one to lock that down. Though dressed to the nines in big guitars and faultless musicianship, X&Y is unable to lay claim to even a single song equal to any of the high points from their first two albums, and the band's obvious desire to be all things to all people doesn't help: They long to be huge and expansive, in The Unforgettable Fire mode ("A Message"), tear-jerking AOR balladeers ("Fix You"), and hip, Kraftwerk-referencing aesthetes ("Talk"), but at heart, they're really built for easy listening, which makes their rockers feel cursory and their ballads simpering.

X&Y is sequenced fast-song/slow-song through almost its entire running order, which means those of you uninterested in wading through doe-eyed love songs based on lazy rhyming couplets and trite resolutions have already lost half a disc's worth of music. You'll "go backwards and then/ You'll go forwards again." You'll "get lost and then get found." You'll notice that the first verse of "Swallowed in the Sea" ("You cut me down a tree/ And brought it back to me/ And that's what made me see/ Where I was coming from") is somehow meaningless, yet also cliched. Had Coldplay accompanied these lyrics with remotely interesting or memorable music, this could be somewhat overlooked; sadly, "Swallowed in the Sea" is one of several aggressively banal ballads that sink this album into a sort of neo-Carpenters abyss.

The more uptempo tracks here tend to be light years better than their leaden counterparts, if only because the louder accompaniment manages to drown out more of Chris Martin's lyrics and bring the focus to his pleasant if unspectacular vocals. Guitarist John Buckland does his part to bring life to the proceedings: He's an encyclopedia of Will Sergeant and Johnny Marr-isms, and even if most of his window dressings are little more than a distillation of tricks learned from better bands, he does a nice job of providing the illusion of a grand gesture for songs like "Square One" and "White Shadows". Martin's vocals, meanwhile, rarely command attention, content to melt into the string synthesizer and guitar reverb as if he hopes he's not imposing on you. Listening back to an earlier track like "Shiver" proves he's capable of more.

Lending to the uninspired nature is lead single "Speed of Sound"'s uncanny resemblance to "Clocks". Certainly, it rarely hurts to stick with what works, but this is not just a near-exact replica of its successful predecessor; it's also a less memorable song riding a piano hook that has so deeply infiltrated the pop-culture landscape that I've become numb to it. In fairness, the track's vocal melody outperforms the one from "Clocks" by a hair, but without a strong hook, the song fails in the one category it needs to succeed in: replay value. It's symptomatic of the rest of the album, and indeed, much of the band's catalog to date: Like Coldplay's two previous albums, only more so, X&Y is bland but never offensive, listenable but not memorable. It may be pointless to hate them, but with this album, they've almost certainly become the easiest band on the planet to be completely indifferent to.

E! gives it an A:

Coldplay took nearly 18 months to finish its third album. The British lads recorded in eight studios in five cities in two countries. They reportedly even threw away nearly 60 songs before getting it down to the final tunes for the album. Such is the pressure of following up 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head, which sold 10 million copies, not to mention having a lead singer who's one half of a tabloid-titillating entertainment-industry power couple. The finished product sounds, well, a lot like Coldplay's first two albums. There are no major surprises, and inspiration still comes from old U2 and Radiohead records. But it is full of earnest, emotional and affecting piano ballads like "Fix You" and "A Message" that only get better with time. Some may call it repetitious, but with songs so beautifully crafted, everyone should agree that X&Y equals A.

Rolling Stone gives it 3/5 stars:

Coldplay didn't seem destined for bigness. Their 2000 debut, Parachutes, was full of drizzly but pretty rock ballads that were almost memorable enough to prevent American listeners from confusing the band with Travis. Of course, that album also included a huge, soaring song called "Yellow," which may well be inspiring a drunken singalong in your local bar as you read this.

"Yellow" was a smash, but what came next was even smashier. In 2002, Coldplay released A Rush of Blood to the Head, which perfectly captured the heady feeling of a small band acting big. The band's sad-sack frontman, Chris Martin, transformed himself with so much swagger and so many hooks that even 50 Cent had to pay tribute, turning Martin's ambivalent lyric into a greasy boast: "God gave me style, God gave me grace." The rest of the band supplied Martin with propulsive rhythms,
giving their newly pushy leader something to pull against, and the songs were even better; the band had mastered the art of writing graceful ballads that were both deceptively simple and fiendishly hard to dislodge from the human brain.

Since then, Martin has become a worldwide rock star, for better and for worse. He has a wife named Gwyneth and a baby named Apple, who just turned one, and who probably already knows what "paparazzi" means. On the other hand, Martin's newfound notoriety has meant more exposure for his favorite causes, such as fair trade. Compared to all the hubbub about Chris Martin the celebrity, his band's return to the American pop charts was a bit of a letdown. Coldplay began the campaign for X&Y with "Speed of Sound," an appealing but not thrilling song (it sounds a bit like Rush of Blood's "Clocks" but without the swagger). Whereas Rush of Blood was a nervy bid for bigness, X&Y is something less exciting. It's the serious sound of Martin trying to sing songs that match his stature. It's the sound of a blown-up band trying not to deflate.

Like the previous one, this album starts in outer space. Last time, there were those roiling piano chords of "Politik" and an audacious opening: "Look at Earth from outer space/Everyone must find a place." This time there's an atmospheric hum, and Martin murmurs, "The future's for discoverin'/The space in which we're travelin'." Drummer Will Champion enters with a tense rhythm, Guy Berryman adds one of those hurtling- forward bass lines, and Jonny Buckland doubles it with a skinny guitar line -- there's plenty to listen to, but not a lot to love. Luckily, this album contains its share of lovely ballads that sound, well, Coldplay-ish: Thanks to Keane and other imitators, Coldplay's name has become an adjective. One of the best is "Fix You," an unabashedly sentimental song where Martin delivers words of encouragement in a gentle falsetto. "Lights will guide you home/And ignite your bones/And I will try to fix you," he sings, proving once more that no band can deliver a stately rock ballad like this one. And although "Twisted Logic" may be an obvious Radiohead rip-off (with a title that sounds alarmingly Fred Durst-ish), the members find ways to build suspense while progressing toward that inevitable crashing

Still, a surprising number of songs here just never take flight, from "The Hardest Part" (which actually gets less catchy as it goes along) to "A Message," which might actually be too Coldplay-ish: "My song is love," Martin announces, and you might find yourself wishing it weren't. Martin has talked about how hard he worked on this album, and it shows: Nothing on it sounds easy -- maybe 50 Cent made off with a little bit of his style and grace. X&Y does find ways to reward persistent listeners, especially those who make it all the way past the end to the bonus track, "Till Kingdom Come," which is the most casual thing on the album (it starts with Martin counting) and maybe the best.

"I don't know which way I'm going/I don't know which way I've come," he sings, accompanied by little more than an acoustic guitar, and after what's come before, it's an unexpected delight to hear him sound so small again.

Blender gives it 5/5 stars:

Only six years ago, wiseacres dismissed Coldplay as Radiohead Lite; all the melancholy atmosphere, none of the innovation or daring or weirdness. The skeptics disdained singer Chris Martin’s lyrics—shy and goofy, like love notes passed in class—as well as his gangling demeanor, so un-rock-starish that he made The Boy Next Door look like David Lee Roth.The knee-weakening crescendos of Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head made a superstar of Martin, which now only multiplies his sense of feeling torn by attention. On X&Y he’s bamboozled by celebrity attention—bemoaning “all this space I’m taking up” in “White Shadows,” a glassy, urgent pop song—but he also edges into Bono’s rock-prophet territory on the glowering “Twisted Logic,” riding Gothic guitars while urging listeners not to “fight for the wrong side.” Tabloid writers and unfair traders will probably not load the song on their iPods.His dilemma is paired with a subtle sonic upgrade: The serene guitars and limpid drums that make Coldplay the musical equivalent of a hot tub here take a blast of cold water, showing a greater debt to chilly rock soundscapers of the ’80s, from Simple Minds to New Order. The melodies, meanwhile, are the most immediately captivating they’ve written, delivering no shortage of spine-tingling
stadium-rock moments, from a relentless Classic Coldplay™ piano riff in “Speed of Sound” to an unexpected burst of supersized psychedelia in “Low.”At the same time, Martin continues to explore his constant theme: “I fucked up, and I’m sorry.” It’s the focus of “Fix You,” a picture of broken-down love framed by churchy organ. Maybe it’s a trick of his clogged, eccentric voice—an accident of British dentistry—but when he sings “When you love someone and it goes to waste, could it be worse?” he sounds sincere. No wonder Gwyneth went ga-ga for the guy. X&Y will make some rock fans fall apart and blubber into their hankies.

Others will gag and shout “Sissy!” Chris Martin, weaned on the principles of indie rock but with mountainous goals in mind, should pay no heed. His band have
made their masterpiece.

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