X&Y

Studio Album by released in 2005

X&Y review

Things have gone ridiculously well for Coldplay in the three years since 2002's A Rush of Blood To The Head. The group's global album sales have soared past the 10-million mark, putting it in the same stratosphere as U2 and the Dave Matthews Band. People have offered up their bank accounts, cars and even bodies for tickets to its shows. And, in a nice twist, front man Chris Martin married Gwyneth Paltrow, setting the tabloid world aflame. Funny thing, then, that the British quartet's most anticipated third album since Oasis’ Be Here Now, X&Y, is all about keeping its feet on the ground. X&Y is a record about how we end up with the perfect one and the fear of keeping that intangible light burning. It’s also about a bunch of middle class boys lucking out, creating alchemy and becoming the biggest band of their generation while still scared shitless they’ll end up working in a call center. It’s a brilliant record of paranoia. Oasis third album was an overblown opus to the excesses of cocaine and the good-life. Radiohead’s was a claustrophobic, intense look at the end of the world. Coldplay’s is about love and fear.

There are no tracks on X&Y as immediate as The Scientist or In My Place or Yellow. It takes time to seep in and get to you. But then – and its easy to forget – A Rush of Blood To The Head… wasn’t immediate either. In the powerful opener Square One, the singer insists people are fundamentally the same no matter their stature. It’s about cracking puzzles and codes, solving riddles – a recurring Coldplay obsession. It starts quietly before Chris chimes in with that broken glass voice, now as identifiable as any in music, and Johnny Buckland works through The Edge’s collection of effects pedals. On Fix You Martin grapples with imperfection and missed opportunity. Meanwhile, the vibrant first single, Speed of Sound, is all about reconnecting with the spirit and soul in the face of the paparazzo's flashbulbs. There were stories about Martin putting in 18-hourdays to get this record right. There were stories at the same time about problems at home and much of this album could easily by read as an open letter to his wife. What If, with its cry is, on the face of it, a simple message to Gwyneth Paltrow. The gentle, pulsing big ballad backing does little to change the idea. But that’s too obvious and too trite for Martin. It’s no leap to see it as a message to fans. Martin, ever the pessimist, is unsure if he has pushed things too far, if Coldplay have been front and center too long and if he might lose the muse and never write another word or note of worth. This nagging doubt is at the core of ‘X&Y’.

Musically, the band has never sounded more adventurous, referencing everyone from Kraftwerk (Talk) to The Pogues (Swallowed In The Sea), all the while sweeping aside those Radiohead-lite comparisons to embrace a massive, moving sound that makes simplicity seem sublime. But it is U2, now Coldplay’s natural peers, who loom largest of all. Their shadow falls on every note and Buckland is not backward about emulating The Edge on half a dozen tracks. Confident, bold, ambitious, bunged with singles and impossible to contain, X&Y doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it does reinforce Coldplay as the band of their time. This is a great record that has just raised the bar for everyone.