Settling into Musical Stardom

Settling into Musical Stardom

Colplay’s latest will increase the fan hordes, to the torment of those damn critics

Coldplay, the smooth masters of soulful melodies and melancholy timbre, have released “X&Y,” their third high-caliber album, proving that the group is among the most successful bands—commercially and artistically—to surface in the last five years.

The new album adheres to the band’s ethereal, soft sensibilities, managing as before to somehow make a fast beat float by slowly and slow ballads play quickly, tempting the urge to replay tracks while wanting to plunge forward. They are masters of combining the driving force of a quick beat with the softness of a slow song into a tune that sounds driving to some and soft to others. This time around, the lyrics are less about heartbreak and separation and more about belonging and tenderness—“You don’t have to be on your own”—without becoming ponderous. Perhaps frontman Chris Marten’s marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow and the birth of their baby, Apple, has brightened up his outlook. Regardless, Coldplay has managed to break slightly new emotional ground while preserving their signature musical textures.

As with their two previous best-selling albums, each number on “X&Y” is an accomplishment, acquitting the overall project. A few are stand-outs. “What If” redefines the old Coldplay treble-laden sound with a touch of bass, just enough to create a new balance and enhance the way the song suddenly busts into a slow, jam-out session controlled nevertheless by the beat, typical of other ballads like “Politik” from “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” the band’s second album. “Fix You” begins Martin’s notable bluesy keying of an organ. Listeners can hear each plink as he opens a new tube in the retro instrument. He then brings in the spiny church-organ sound he used extensively on the last album to transition into a beautifully memorable chorus full of voices and a newfound, joyous Coldplay sound.

Strangely, a U2 quality pervades a number of the songs, especially “Talk,” which begins with the heroic guitar sound characteristic of the Irish rock group. The last track, “Twisted Logic,” sounds like a Radiohead song, with its spacey lyrics, slick and creepy bass, mounting tension and moments of outbreak. Martin’s voice even adopts the slight wavering of Radiohead singer Thom York. The band doesn’t seem to be trying to emulate their British counterparts, just dabbling with their techniques. When Coldplay first crossed into the mainstream spotlight, accusations of Radiohead mimicry flew about. “Twisted Logic” rebuts the charge and twists it around, proving that Coldplay can improve upon its counterpart’s motifs.

A few songs—“White Shadows,” and the album’s first, “Speed of Sound”—meander too closely to an overtly pop formula, although the video for the latter song is an artsy studio piece with lights, a stage and Martin close-ups tenderly crooning.

The band continues its social campaigning, encouraging album buyers to visit the Web sites of Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other advocacy groups. The jacket itself is carbon-neutral, meaning that the band has financed the planting of enough trees to offset the carbon dioxide emitted in the album’s manufacture.

The band will hopefully continue to produce outstanding albums, though it will be hard to live up these first three. With “X&Y,” Coldplay’s hardcore fans will find an album as good as the first two, and new listeners will find a new favorite.