Thursday, July 28, 2005

Some Thoughts on Coldplay's 'X and Y'

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Because tomorrow old friends we haven't seen for about eight years are coming by for a visit, I've been dusting and vacuuming the house while my wife was away at her part-time job. As is my usual practice when doing housecleaning, I've been listening to music...loud. Tonight's bill of fare: X &Y, the latest release from Coldplay.

This Brit band has obviously ascended to a pretty high place in the rock stratosphere. One piece of evidence is that just as this LP was released, they appeared in a concert special on VH-1 where they performed a number of the songs on X & Y. (I was impressed by their musicianship and harmonies, involving all four members of the band, especially on the song 'Fix You.')

But of even more significance in proving Coldplay's ascendancy in the musical universe is that the sports jocks on the radio stations I listen to, who love to pepper their shows with comments on reality TV, movies, and music, seem to universally hate the band. The acquisition of detractors is an almost certain sign that artists have attained success. Only those who have are resented by others.

X & Y is Coldplay's third release. I liked the first two and I like this one. But, to my mind, it's not great music. This isn't the kind of CD you pop into a player and tell your friends, "Hey, you gotta listen to this!" Instead, it's the CD you play more softly in the background when you want to talk with your friends, or that you play quietly as you read a good book, or to accompany you on a long drive. This is good CD, maybe even a great one at one level. But it's not great music.

Try as I might, I can't make much sense of most of the lyrics on X & Y. But that's probably beside the point. There's a story that John Lennon told in his famous 'Rolling Stone' interview with Jann Wenner. According to Lennon, he was with Bob Dylan, listening to one of Dylan's songs. "Listen to the words," Dylan kept telling Lennon. Lennon insisted that one shouldn't listen to a song that way, that the total feel is what's important.

One thing that's very clear from X & Y is that Coldplay, like Jars of Clay, whose members actually majored in popular music, has at least informally "gone to college" in rock music. While I would never hang the label of derivative on them, their influences often show. The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, and the Alan Parsons Project immediately suggest themselves. But other influences can be heard as well. The song, 'What If' sounds a lot like Paul McCartney's 'Golden Slumbers.' The featured guitar riff on 'Talk' is vaguely reminiscent of Big Country, albeit in a mellower vain. 'X & Y' sounds, in turns, like Lennon's 'I'm Losin' You' and 'Glass Onion.' For all that, Coldplay presents a sound that is very much their own and one that's easy to enjoy.

Having clearly established themselves as a band that's going to be around, Coldplay has served themselves well here with X & Y, a collection of memorable melodies, stirring hooks, and fine arrangements that will, I think, wear well for years to come. I guess I wish that, at this point in their career, there were more discernible points to their songs. But it's easy to imagine Coldplay thirty years from now performing 'Fix You' as the final, celebratory encore of their concerts before packed stadia.

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