I went to my local Best Buy on Tuesday and picked up the new Coldplay album, X & Y, partly because I couldn’t resist all the buzz about it, partly because it was cheap ($9.99) and mostly because I knew that at least one of my daughters would really appreciate and the other would at the very least be interested. Just to complete the picture, my son listens primarily to music made prior to 1979 (which means he really digs my Yes and Allman Brothers albums for example) and my youngest daughter is only moderately interested in any music that isn’t Superchic[k].
I had previously thought that Coldplay was mostly a lot of chord thumping with whiny vocals but I’d revised that by listening to Parachutes a few times lately (although Rush of Blood does reinforce my previous notion a bit). I also heard in the media that Coldplay is the band “most likely to be U2” in the future so I certainly couldn’t resist that. I even heard that they had a picture of U2 put up in their studio while they recorded to remind them what they were shooting for.
So, I’ve heard the album a few times now and it is growing on me. There are certainly some similarities to what U2 do well – a quirky vocalist who sings over a thick layer of sound, a bass player and drummer who can really drive a song with their kinetic playing, a sense of not being afraid to reach perhaps a little too far in trying to make a statement and, finally, a sense of soaring melody that can get in your head and stay there.
There is a big difference, though. U2 has a well-documented faith-based lyricist who’s thoughtful and compelling songs have a kind of real depth and weight that give U2 a sense of urgency and moral authority that are hard to come by any other way. When I listen to a U2 song (or at least many of them) I feel challenged to be a better person. When I listen to a Coldplay song I feel like I’ve heard Chris Martin sing about his relationship. It isn’t that all Coldplay songs are about relationships and all U2 songs are about God – but at their core, U2 is playing with much more important stuff than Coldplay is. I’m not sure I want Martin to get all political and everything – after all, how many songs about fair trade do we really need – but the style of the songs they do aches to have some important lyrics to go along with them. It’s not a surprise, then, that the song that has bee singled out by rolling stone as the high point of the album is the most scaled-back song of the lot - the hidden track "Til' Kingdom Come". It’s hardly the most elegant or the most melodic, but it’s the one where the music better fits the personal character of the lyrics.
It’s good to remember that this is only Coldplay's 3rd album and if there was one word that I think characterizes both War (U2’s third album) and X & Y it is potential. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.