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Reviewed by David Medsker
Now that X&Y is out, the statement suddenly makes a lot more sense. What they meant was that Coldplay doesn’t want to be the biggest band in the world; they just want to be U2. X&Y is littered with references to Bono and the boys. And as comparisons go, that’s better than being Radiohead’s wussy kid brothers, which was their dirty little nickname when Parachutes (2000) came out. But with U2 comparisons come massive expectations, and that ultimately becomes X&Y’s biggest flaw; they may go for the big rafter shaking moment here and there, but most of the time, they sound like they have something to lose. And that thought clearly scares the shit out of them.
Upon hearing “White Shadows,” one wonders why the label chose the underwhelming “Speed of Sound” (which marks the third time they’ve written “Clocks,” live track “Moses” being the other version) as the first single. This song has everything that “Speed of Sound” doesn’t: energy, a catchy chorus and, most importantly, it sounds like nothing else in the band’s catalog. “Talk” is another gem, propelled by a simple but majestic guitar riff from Jon Buckland. The title track is this album’s “Politik,” with a dark but wickedly seductive melody that feels suspended in air. “Low” is the best Echo & the Bunnymen impression ever, and “Twisted Logic” is like Radiohead taking a crack at “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Ambitious stuff in comparison to the wimpy “Speed of Sound.”
The peculiar thing about X&Y is how one flaw exposes another. The lyrics are, for the most part, crap, and Chris Martin doesn’t seem to have any idea when to scale back on the falsetto. He climbs so high on “Fix You” that he nearly derails the song before it’s begun. And yet, in fairness to the lyrics, it’s not as though the lyrics to A Rush of Blood to the Head were any better. In fact, the words to “Clocks” could be instructions on how to bake a cake, for all I know. But “Clocks,” along with the rest of the songs on Rush of Blood, was so spellbinding that it allowed the band some lenience in other departments. The songs on X&Y are good to great, but not to the caliber of Rush of Blood. “Fix You” may be a U2 moment, but it’s a calculated U2 moment. You can actually tell how hard they’re trying here, which violates one of the tenets of performing: never let them see you sweat. Coldplay is sweating this one big time.
X&Y is a perfectly good, entertaining and satisfying Coldplay album. But it can’t shake the sense that the band is no longer playing to win but playing not to lose. And no one likes a rock band that plays it safe, especially one vying for the crown of biggest band in the world. With that title comes balls. A Rush of Blood had balls; X&Y, while good, does not.