By: Eric Greenwood
For me, Coldplay has always seemed stuck inside Radiohead's 1995 classic "Fake Plastic Trees." The falsetto, the nuanced acoustic sway, and the general malaise of that song sort of lazily encompass Coldplay's entire worldview. I didn't give the band's safe, girlfriend rock much credit until I heard "Clocks" off its second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head. That piano line mixed with Chris Martin's English whine pushed forward for a change and showed that Coldplay could possibly, maybe almost rock if it tried really, really hard.
On X&Y, the quartet almost pulls it off, flexing its rock muscles slightly by incorporating heavier guitars into its minimal "lifestyle music", as Radiohead's Thom Yorke has snidely christened it. The first single "Speed of Sound" sublimely showcases Martin's soporific melodies in a semi-futuristic setting, replete with effective double-tracked harmonies in the chorus. The guitars arch and sway in a cinematic sweep of distant arpeggios reminiscent of vintage U2, while never quite pushing past a point that might offend the band's mostly yuppie audience.
Electronic flourishes flitter beneath the Coldplay's now distinctly laborious pace. Lyrically, Martin dances around generic cliché but never lowers himself to the plebian depths of bands like, say, Oasis, who sing for the lowest common denominator (which at home in England means beer swilling soccer fans). Martin's grey lyrics are mournful and pensive yet utterly inoffensive. Being known as Radiohead-lite isn't an unfair assessment. A Coldplay record is like a baby-proofed Radiohead album- all the edges have been softened and all the weirdness sucked dry.
Coldplay is decidedly trying to expand beyond its borderline adult contemporary niche with X&Y. It's an expansive and stupendously produced record with a handful of remarkable songs, including the aforementioned "Speed of Sound", the insular ballad "Fix You", as well as the catchy, retro-riff-heavy "Talk." However, if you find Martin's falsetto slightly grating, you won't have much reprieve here. His emotional palette is limited, as is his means of expression, but, despite its gratuitously self-absorbed perspective, is a fine third album (to buy your girlfriend).