- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

Coldplay

X&Y;

Capitol Records

So this is the album whose delay moved decimal points on the profit-loss ledger of one of the world’s biggest music conglomerates?

This is the best shot from the audacious perfectionists who scrapped their producer and make no secret of their plan to assume one day (if they haven’t already) the global throne of rock?

Come again?

Excuse me while I yawn — in boredom and jaw-dropping astonishment that a band like Coldplay is taken seriously in its embarrassingly outsized ambitions.

In a word, I’m underwhelmed. For the third time. I keep waiting for some grand revelation, some “Rubber Soul,” some “Unforgettable Fire,” some sign that a band of modest gifts is evolving into a new state of originality and boldness.

Coldplay won back-to-back Grammys, I know. It earns oodles of press — and not just the kind that marriages to Oscar-winning actresses get you. (Singer Chris Martin is hitched to Gwyneth Paltrow.) Still, it will need to do better than “X&Y;,” the Brit-pop band’s latest and much-heralded third LP, to carry off its world-conquest designs.

I mean, there’s no way Coldplay is the next U2. The latter band’s singer named his children after Old Testament prophets. Mr. Martin named his daughter after a fruit.

Coldplay’s music is often described as “anthemic.” I don’t hear it. Songs such as “Yellow” and “Clocks” were basically chamber pieces, not throng uniters. That, I thought, was their virtue: Mr. Martin’s piano and wraithlike voice had mood-altering powers; the acoustic B-side gem “Careful Where You Stand” quite possibly could lower your blood pressure.

That this kind of thing is set to draw thousands to venues such as the Nissan Pavilion this summer can only mean that America’s young people are all on some psychotropic potion and no one has noticed it yet.

Let’s stick with the U2 comparison because everyone else seems to think it’s so natural. On “X&Y;,” it’s warranted once, maybe twice, on a technicality. The album’s first single, “Speed of Sound,” is a vanilla clone of “Clocks,” but the planned second single, “Fix You,” is a genuine stunner.

“Fix You” starts all churchy and stately, with Mr. Martin on organ and singing a beautiful descending melody. (It’s one of the few that grabs you immediately; the rest of the album’s melodies float nowhere, like driftwood.) Then the band kicks in; guitarist Jonny Buckland nicely mimics U2’s the Edge with a simple, iridescent line that pushes against drummer Will Champion’s booming rhythm; and a chorus of voices singing “Tears stream down your face” rises up as though God turned up the knob on the song’s dimmer switch.

The second U2-worthy moment, the technicality, comes with the hidden final track “‘Til Kingdom Come,” a backwoodsy, acoustic-guitar number that Mr. Martin says was written for the late Johnny Cash. Mr. Cash did lend his voice to U2’s “The Wanderer,” and it’s easy to imagine him doing the Coldplay tune, reminding the listener anew of Mr. Martin’s vocal puniness.

Elsewhere, Coldplay is stuck in a 1980s frame of reference. “Square One” lifts guitar licks from Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” The band actually had to get permission to recast “Computer Love” by German techno-masters Kraftwerk for the middling “Talk.”

Lyrically, Mr. Martin is characteristically solipsistic. On “White Shadows,” he wonders if he’s taking up too much space. (Hint: Yes.) On “What If,” he questions the state of the cosmos and draws juvenile parallels to his love life: “What if there was no time, and no reason or rhyme? … What if you should decide that you don’t want me there by your side?” On “Twisted Logic,” he imagines a doomed future in which “computers search for life on Earth.”

This is not to say the album’s a compete dud. It gives off a somber afterglow that intensifies after repeated listens. But if this is the stuff of tomorrow’s stadium rock — a string of midtempo, guitar-solo-free ballads sung in a dreamlike state that’s often interrupted by a falsetto that sounds like a drunkard’s warble — then stadiums ought to be a lot smaller — and quieter.


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