Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Coldplay's X&Y Is Boring, Average, Light Pop-Rock: But It's VERY Coldplay!

The Good: A few decent songs, a few lyrics
The Bad: Duration, Nothing truly new from the band.
The Basics: A generally blase album, X&Y is very average music by Coldplay and it feels like we've already heard this album.

The last album I had before my arsenal of new music came in was X&Y by Coldplay. I have generally enjoyed Coldplay's music, whatwith recently catching Vida La Vida Or Death And All His Friends and one of my earliest reviews being A Rush Of Blood To The Head (reviewed here!). So, while I've often remarked on Coldplay being derivative of itself or other bands, I have generally enjoyed their work. But with X&Y, I found myself disappointed by just how obvious the entire album actually was.

In the case of X&Y, the only relevant frame of reference for describing the album is in the context of Coldplay itself. Coldplay produces heavily-produced light pop-rock and X&Y is an album that sounds virtually identical to their two earlier albums. The main problem with this album is not that it is not good, it is that it is not in any way new sounding. Instead, X&Y sounds like exactly what one expects when they think of Coldplay. The songs are generally bland ballads with Chris Martin's tenor voice a plaintive wail in front of the instrumental accompaniment. And the result is an album which is pretty boring.

With thirteen songs clocking out at 62:31, X&Y is very much the work of Coldplay. All of the songs are co-written by the members of the band and they play almost all of the instruments on the album. As well, Chris Martin provides all of the lead vocals. Finally, the group is credited as a co-producer on each of the tracks. In other words, it is hard to argue that this is anything other than the intended sound that Coldplay intended. What is truly astonishing is that this rather bland album was actually the best-selling album of 2005! I suppose there are enough Coldplay fans in the world to make this somewhat narcoleptic album a success, but in retrospect, it is average at best.

X&Y spawned the mainstream radio hit "Speed Of Sound" and the songs "Fix You" and "The Hardest Part" were apparently released as singles as well. But in the United States, "Speed Of Sound" was the only song to get mainstream traction and one suspects that X&Y did so well because those who loved A Rush Of Blood To The Head were eager for something, anything, new from Coldplay. But X&Y sounds pretty much like an extension of the prior album. To wit, the band's sound has not progressed. Coldplay is keyboard, guitar and drum-based with Martin's vocals produced to be up front.

But even so, there are bands whose albums use the same instruments and yet they never sound so alike (Fleetwood Mac is a great example). But X&Y is entirely familiar. As much as I love the song "Fix You," it sounds a lot like "The Scientist" in its instrumental accompaniment. Similarly, "White Shadows" and "Swallowed In The Sea" sound like other Coldplay works. X&Y more monolithic in its sound as well. This is an album that is much slower and ballad-based than other Coldplay albums. In fact, "Speed Of Sound" is arguably the only truly upbeat song on the album, so those tempted to buy X&Y based upon that radio hit are likely to feel like they are the victim of bait and switch. The rest of the album, including the bonus thirteenth track ("+") are slow, melodical and very white bread.

Part of what makes the album so bland is how homogenous the vocals are. Coldplay does what I tend to like on X&Y which is to produce the vocals so they may be heard. Instead of letting the synthesizers and guitars overwhelm the vocals, Coldplay makes sure the vocals are right upfront and Chris Martin sings all of the lyrics from the band clearly. The problem is, Martin is a tenor with a wonderfully melodic voice that actually manages to do a passable falsetto on songs like "Speed Of Sound," but he doesn't truly vary his sound. Instead, he has the same, direct, earnest delivery on every song. There is no emotional variance to the songs and as a result, they all come across as somewhat melodramatic romantic ballads, even when they are not. The songs about loss ("Swallowed In The Sea") tend to have the same emotional resonance and flavor as the songs about falling in love. As a result, X&Y has a monolithic sound because the vocals overwhelm music even when the instrumental accompaniment goes in a completely different direction.

This is not to say X&Y is without any merit on the lyrics. Some of the songs have surprisingly poetic and wonderful lyrics. Take, for example, "Fix You." This song actually works with Martin's plaintive vocals as it is a somewhat melodramatic and heartfelt song. Martin makes it work when he sings "And the tears come streaming down your face / When you lose something you can't replace / When you love someone, but it goes to waste / Could it be worse? / Lights will guide you home / And ignite your bones / And I will try to fix you" ("Fix You"). This might easily be one of the best Coldplay songs ever as there is an undertone of futility in both the lyrics and the vocals that make it truly heartwrenching.

In addition, Coldplay has a decent sense of imagery to many of their songs. On "Talk," they employ the lines "Are you lost or incomplete? / Do you feel like a puzzle, you can't find your missing piece? / Tell me how do you feel? / Well I feel like they're talking in a language I don't speak / And they're talking it to me / So you take a picture of something you see / In the future where will I be? / You can climb a ladder up to the sun / Or a write a song nobody has sung" and the mixture of emotive statements (or questions) and poetic imagery is beautiful. Coldplay is distinct right now in that they try to be poetic and employ a sense of classic imagery to many of their songs. "Talk" works because it engages so many of the senses.

Unfortunately, "Talk" also hints at where Coldplay goes wrong lyrically on X&Y. X&Y has some Coldplay songs with stiflingly dull rhymes. When Martin sings "You cut me down a tree / And brought it back to me / And that's what made me see / Where I was going wrong . . . And I could write a song / A hundred miles long / Well, that's where I belong / And you belong with me" ("Swallowed In The Sea") it is hard not to cringe. The song uses terribly predictable rhymes and it holds up poorly over multiple listens.

Ultimately, X&Y is a very average Coldplay album and the best songs on it were released as singles, so they will undoubtedly be on an inevitable "Best Of" Coldplay. Even those who like what they hear from Coldplay on the radio can wait for that rather than spend on this album.

The best song is "Fix You," the low point is the unmemorable "Low."

For other, similar, groups, please check out my reviews of:
18 Singles - U2
“Some Might Say” (Single) – Oasis
Accelerate - R.E.M.


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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