Thursday, July 21, 2005

Review:Coldplay's X&Y

Given the breadth of one's cultural inputs - films, books, and music - one often gets desensitized to good stuff. It sometimes helps to step back, put something aside, and then return to it a while later.

Coldplay's third album, X&Y originally seemed stale and uninteresting. One felt that they could have done better, or at the very least, changed tack in their musical odyssey. There is more than a passing similarity musically to their earlier albums. The themes are trite, and the singles over-played.

I recently rediscovered the album, however, and find myself looking at it in a different light. The correlation to their earlier work seems apposite, and the songs flow well.

Listened in order, they alternate between fast and slow, only the first of deliberate opposites that the album creates. The general theme, at least to this reviewer, seems to be promises made, kept, betrayed, and a sense of creative discomfort with the way things are.
"Square One" asks if the need/desire to excel and stand out is commonplace, and whether it can be achieved really. In a world which is populated by over-achievers and the bar constantly raised, this is a fair question. What of the silent, the under-achievers, the disconnected? The singer stresses that we are all the same really, even the ones who don't get heard amidst all the noise.

"What If" explores the fear of commitment, the need to be loved, and the urge to sometimes just chuck it all. Very typical Coldplay song, really.

"White Shadows" is one of the best, perhaps most-overlooked songs on the album. The rocking beat is simple, yet effective. The song wonders whether there is something wrong with the system, there are dissonances in the modernist symphony. There is an air of hope, that we are 'part of the human race/All of the stars in outer space/Part of a system, a plan', and a wish that 'Maybe you'll get what you wanted/Maybe you'll stumble upon it'.

"Fix You" uses a sonorous organ as a backdrop to this song of promise and betrayal. The tempo is decidedly slow, and the guitar track deliciously crisp. The final third of the song speeds things up, with a sort of choral verse, quite poignant and abrupt."Tears stream down your face/When you lose something you cannot replace/Tears stream down your face/And I..."

"Talk" has a sort of U2-flavor to it. It continues the theme of things gone inexpressibly wrong, when 'nothing's really making any sense at all'. One could do literally anything in this new world, and still feel incomplete."You could climb a ladder up to the sun/Or write a song nobody had sung/Or do something that’s never been done". It borrows and adapts Kraftwerk's "Computer Love" by playing the melody on a guitar, rather than electronically. The comparison to Kraftwerk is a dangerous one, though. They were seen as digital-age visionaries before being cast by the musical wayside. Coldplay may avoid that fate, given their undoubtable talent, but the need for versatility and range, a la the White Stripes for example, cannot be overlooked.

"X&Y" addresses the same 'broken-ness' of things, perhaps on a more personal level this time.'I want to love you but I don’t know if I can/I know something is broken and i’m trying to fix it/Trying to repair it any way I can'

"Speed Of Sound" seems to deal with building up resolve to change the way things are, wondering "How long am I going to stand/With my head stuck under the sand". It appeals to the listener to look beyond 'Ideas that you'll never find" and past "The buildings you put up/All Japan and China, all lit up". He looks back at the Concorde ("...birds go flying at the speed of sound") and the ever-increasing pace of change, confessing that 'Some things you have to believe/but others are puzzles, puzzling me". He seems to have figured it, or something, out, promising that "When you see it, then you'll understand"

"A Message" sounds like a late Lennon piece, a slow ballad with a single, specific theme, a message of 'love unknown'. A promise is made that the singer is nothing alone, and that he must 'get that message home'.

"Low" is a fast song about feeling low. To this reviewer, various images evoked the memory of William Blake's poem "Tyger" - perhaps the references to 'colour' and 'perfect symmetry'. He promises, once more, that the loved one means much more to him 'Than any color I can see'. He feels that the loved one didn't try hard enough, asking the question, "Don’t you want to see it come soon/Floating in a big white balloon/Or given on your own silver spoon/Don’t you want to see it come down/There for throwing your arms around/And say "you're not a moment too soon", and immediately after, confessing that he feels 'low', not surprisingly. Another note on "The Tyger" - the poem deals with the images of the 'satanic mills' of the Industrial revolution, and a growing self-awareness that evil exists, and love is not omnipresent - a theme in keeping with this album, perhaps.

"The Hardest Part" continues the 'bittersweet' flavoring, admitting that "Everything I know is wrong/Everything I do, it just comes undone/And everything is torn apart/Oh, and that’s the hardest part". Good melody.

"Swallowed in The Sea" acknowledges some influences by The Pogues, and some fine lyrics. It expresses a need to return to simplicity, a one-on-one approach to the world, as opposed to the overblown, chaotic spaces of our worldly lives. I find the braggadocio of the lyrics (a song a hundred miles long...a book..they say shook the world') touching when compared to the inner theme of the song dealing with a very private communication.

"Twisted Logic" comes closest to a direct disavowal of the modern world and it's ways. It makes an appeal not to 'fight for the wrong side/Say what you feel like/Say how you feel". It wonders if "Hundreds of years in the future/There could be computers/Looking for life on earth", a warning if ever there was one. The song holds a dark, yet humanistic opinion that "If somebody made it/Someone will mess it up/And you are not wrong to/Ask who does this belong to/It belongs to all of us"

"'Til Kingdom Come" was originally intended to be recorded by the late Johnny Cash. It is a sparsely produced track, with little orchestration, wrapping the album up with the by-now standard refrain that "I need someone, someone who hears/For you i’ve waited all these years/For you i’d wait til kingdom come/Until my day, my day is done"

Unless there is more to the picture than meets the eye, one wonders why someone at the top of their game, with a wife like Gwyneth Paltrow, and a young child would be writing so many dystopian elegies. Perhaps he doesn't fancy the name 'Apple' any more. Or perhaps he really is feeling the sense of dissonance and ennui that seems to envelop much of our society. In that sense, this album is very much a product of our tumultuous, tsunami-rich times.

Coldplay are made up of Chris Martin (vocals/piano), Jon Buckland (guitar), Will Champion (drums), and Guy Berryman (bass)

X&Y/Coldplay A Rush of Blood to the Head/Coldplay Parachutes/Coldplay Get Behind Me Satan/The White Stripes Computer World/Kraftwerk A Lover's Discourse : Fragments/Richard Howard

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