Coldplay

Capitol

For years, I was so concerned that I would be ridiculed for liking Coldplay that I hid the band’s CDs with the paranoid shame of a pornoisseur. I put A Rush of Blood to the Head in the rack sideways so no one could read the title. I squirreled Live 2003 away as if it were some particularly distasteful blue movie. I was too embarrassed to tell even my wife that I’d bought the thing, and it recently took the better part of an evening to rediscover where I’d stashed it. Why? It should be obvious: Coldplay isn’t cool. All your hip-point-counting friends will tell you. Even Simon Williams, whose Fierce Panda label was the first to release anything by the gajillion-selling London quartet, once remarked, “The whole point is that when we did Coldplay, they weren’t cool. That’s why they hadn’t been signed—because Chris Martin was a gibbering fool in a tank top with Leo Sayer hair.” But it’s precisely this that has endeared the band to me so: the squareness, the sappiness, the chronic allergy to irony. I love, for example, the way “Square One,” the opener to the new X&Y, combines gracelessly straightforward phrasing like “You just want somebody listening to what you say/It doesn’t matter who you are” with an anthemically overblown arrangement heavy on Jonny Buckland’s elegant processed guitar. After all, it’s the same spare, unpoetic approach Black Sabbath took on the immortal “Changes,” and Martin & Co. pull it off again on “What If.” “What if you should decide/That you don’t want me there by your side,” Martin sings against just a few of those trademark piano chords and some synthed strings, showing off the sense of vulnerability that has always made him likable. On Blood and before, his helplessness and pain were intensely private but hardly hermetic. “The lights go out and I can’t be saved/Tides that I swim against/ Have brought me down upon my knees,” he offered on that album’s Grammy-winning “Clocks.” “Oh, I beg, I beg and plead, singing.” On X&Y, however, there’s a notable switch from the first person to the second. Now it’s you with “no meaning to your life” (“Low”) and “tears stream[ing] down your face” (“Fix You”), you who’ll “go backwards/ But then/…go forwards” (“Twisted Logic”). Against the new album’s consistently halfhearted hooks, the numerous attempts to help the rest of us overcome the odds have all the hollow earnestness of a Successories poster. (“Talk,” in particular, wouldn’t be out of place under a beachscape and on your boss’s wall: “So you don’t know where you’re going and you wanna talk/And you feel like you’re going where you’ve been before/…Let’s talk.”) Buckland may have found an appealing—if unexciting—balance between New Order and U2, but Martin has become nothing but a wannabe Bono. After finally coming out as one of the guy’s fans, I have another admission to make: X&Y is just as embarrassing as the ’Play-hating hipsters think it is.

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