Friday Morning Download – "X & Y" by Coldplay

[I was off riding my bike last week and wasn’t able to get the FMD off before leaving – mea culpa!]

Living in Scotland for the past 6 years, I had the priviledge of seeing some great shows in a wee club of great renown – King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow. Akin to The Cave in Liverpool, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut is the venue that has launched numerous bands into stardom – notably Oasis, Del Amtri, Belle and Sebastian, and even played a role in the humble beginnings of what many are saying is the next “U2” – Coldplay.

It was in 2000 that Chris Martin and his merry band toured like maniacs throughout the UK, stopping at King Tut’s for a crazy show of covers and with a pair of strong singles: the Radiohead-riffing fits and starts of “Shiver” belied a calm, confident grace and the single that put them on the map – “Yellow”. What continues to distinguishColdplay from other Neo-British rockers (I doubt that the days of the British Invasion have anything truly ‘British’ given the global influence of music and marketing these days – but correct me if I am wrong here…) is a fresh sound amidst a sea of Oasis and Radiohead wannabes (pick up Travis, Stereophonics, Idlewild, and Embrace and tell me what’s distinctive).

Their debut album, Parachutes, became a critical and commercial hit in 2000 and was followed by (what I would argue – purist may indeed disagree) their sophomore best-seller “A Rush of Blood to the Head”, in 2002. The album featured some great singles with super hooks —”The Scientist,” “Clocks,” and “In My Place“—that dug into your sing-along portion of your mind. Most of the production questions from “Parachutes” seemed ironed out in “A Rush of Blood to the Head”- there were enough smooth edges and open spaces to confirm Coldplay’s quantum leap from young, moody rockers (signified by itchy guitar) to mature, moody rock stars (signified by piano). The conditions of their prior melancholy had presumably changed, but the song remained the same. Rather than sounding like a guitar band, they were beginning to sound like a Chris Martin band – and that is not a bad thing.

With the new album X&Y, the devolution looks complete. As the band grows more comfortable with their billing as proper stars—”the next U2″ is the most common tag—they grow more reliant on Martin, the only member with proper star qualities. And X&Y is a record that defers, tragically, to the singer. Many of the songs open with a spotlighted Martin unfurling his lyrical sadness before the band even has a chance to get into a rhythm, play a note or unpack their equipment. There are cavernous, wide-open spaces carved out of songs so that Martin’s loud-soft-loud cries can evoke maximum drama.

As Hua Hsu’s review in Slate puts it “There are epic tissue-boxes of emotion, but no objective correlative to account for the tears. Most of the album treads in the lost-in-love territory of trite tunes like “Fix You” or “The Hardest Part.” “What If” borrows a device from the pop philosophizing of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” only it descends from depressing questions of space and time and Manichean divides to the more pressing issue: “What if you should decide/ That you don’t want me there by your side?” There is nothing wrong with performing emotion in song—this is what pop music does. But there is something suspicious about overdramatizing the terms of those emotions.”

I couldn’t agree more with Hua Hsu’s summation. The overwrought haranguing on the album can’t possibly carry Chris Martin’s lyrics about a flawed lover in need of fixing. This is the classic problem with bands that seek after our heart through trials and empathy – how much empathy can a huge rock band have with little, old me? Especially when the lead singer is married to Gwyneth Paltrow?! In short, “X & Y” has some of the feelings right and even some of the vibe… but the questions that bring us to the point of loss, loneliness, and despair seem a million miles away. Is this where rock takes us – offering us the ‘cura animarum’ but we need to figure out the sickness?

At any rate, check out the title track from “X & Y” for yourself – sometimes taking the medicine can be fine even idon’t dont know we are sick…

4 Comments

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  1. It’s “wah-wah” – “WAH-WAH”! With an “H”. Just teasing…

    Excellent FMD, as usual. I haven’t bought this album yet, and I’m not sure I will. I’m getting bored with Coldplay, for some of the reasons you cite, and just because they’re, well, boring. Mostly.

    I again self-aggrandizingly direct your attention to my most brilliant writing to date, about Coldplay and how they aren’t as good a band as Radiohead.

    click here to read.

    Pretty please? I don’t wanna have to post it on TKF…it would seem (and would be) egomaniacal.

    On a related note, today I went to FOPP and dropped 5-well-spent-£s each on the following: Springsteen’s “Nebraska”, Tom Wait’s “Blue Valentine”, and The Smashing Pumpkin’s “Rotten Apples: Greatest Hits”

    As much as I enjoyed the Smasking Pumpkins back in my high school days – man, those chorus-y Fender guitar tones are nostalgic – I never owned a single one of their albums…and while I’m not usually big on Best of…s or Greatest Hits collections, I think this is one I really just needed for posterity’s sake. Kinda like I will undoubtedly one day buy an Oasis greatest hits, while I don’t really find any of their individual albums impressive enough to own…just me, though.

    I held off on buying, also for £5 each, (and so will doubtless go back and buy these, too, and ask forgiveness of my wife later): Interpol’s “Antics”, the first Foo Fighters album, the first 2 White Stripes albums (I confess I have ripped copies of both, but am looking to set things aright), the first 3 Gillian Welch albums, Miles Davis’ “Complete Birth of the Cool”…and on and on…

  2. I felt a bit ‘dirty’ posting on Coldplay – basically a cleaned up, well poised, neo-slacker band with corporate backing (for my money, history will put them in the discount bin next to the Journey back catalogue, Sting’s “sacred love” CD and and REO Speedwagon’s “Hi Infidelity” with a little sign that reads “Great Deals for Soccer Moms!”

    BTW – Alanis Morrisette’s 10th anniversary edition of “Jagged Little Pill – Acoustic” hit Starbacks like a hurricane this week. We get to muse on “Ironic” all over again. I have to tell you though, lines like “wine, dine, 69 me” dont have the punch in the unplugged format…

    My man… the fact that you bought “Blue Valentine” and “Nebraska” (two of my all-time DIDs)will surely cancel out the Smashing Pumpkins purchase

  3. I just got X&Y and was gonna write to you and ask what you thought when I got the FMD. Thanks for the helpful and insightful review. I am enjoying much of the music on X&Y, but all for the same reason I like “Clocks.” Which suggests a lack of musical invention, re-invention, experimentation. Or as my honey put it with more directness–“all their music sounds the same to me.”

    Regarding the lyrics, so far my favorite is “Talk” because it’s the one in which I get the clearest sense that someone is telling a story about something specific. I’m so not into waxing about moons and stars, or the first page and the last days without any lived experience to tie it down to and blossom from. So the storytelling in the lyrics seems weak–instead of stories I hear philosophy.

    Having said that, I’m still enjoying it. But let’s hold off comparison to U2.

  4. Brannon – thanks for the correction on ‘WAH WAH’… better to get things right prior to going live in cyberspace!

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