As you can tell, all of the reviews going up today are older ones of mine (I lost a lot when I accidentally deleted my old music review blog… and I thought I had saved them somewhere; I can only hope I archived them back in London). As such, this starts fairly tersely: I decided to go track by track, instead of pouring heaps of love onto the band, like the NME did way back when.
X1 – Square One: Orchestral strings, and then Chris, usher in a reasonably hard song, with some killer Jonny Buckland riffs, and odd keyboard noises. Martin’s voice gets stronger with each album, and the songs get darker. There are less choruses, and more refrains. Also, he’s got beter metaphors. This sounds more stadium ready, and less sonically intimate, but the emotions are more universal, so the decrease in one aspect of their sound has been balanced the increase in the other. They’ve been listening to Kraftwerk, and it shows, although the acoustic guitar at the end sounds almost cliched.
X2 – What If: Brilliant melody, and the piano line mimics/parodies “Imagine” by Lennon, whihc, according to various interviews, is what they’re lyrically parodying anyway. Whereas on Parachutes Chris felt yearning for love, and on Rush Of Blood he couldn’t cope, now he’s looking at deterioration, the dark side of relationships, and it’s fitting that the music has got older, darker and more mature sounding. The shifts in dynamics are fairly traditional, but at least Buckland, who started to be pushed higher in the mix on the second album, gets to sound as good as he does live. (Check out Live 2003, he actually solos). This will have Glastonbury weeping, and then
X3 – White Shadows: Don’t get me wrong, it fits perfectly. It just starts with the same letter as the song before. It bugs me, as it looks wrong, and almost as if they couldn’t think of anything better to call it. Now I’ve got that off my chest, the song. Another synth hum, but now we shift up a tempo, and it’s almost groovy. Complete with “young boy” phrasing, and “parts of a system” theme, we’re getting close to a cliche, but it’s also starting to sound more electronic, no doubt due to the band finally listening to the bass player and letting him have a fiddle with the sound – he even plays synths when they perform Speed Of Sound. The choruses are minor, and the overall mood is more oppressive, and yet melancholy. With layered vocals, this is the best chorus so far, and almost certainly a track which will feature near the start of their sets. I doubt it’ll knock Politik from its position as opening track at a gig, but it’ll be right up there.
X4 – Fix You: Deeply personal, there are views that this is about Martin’s wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, but I won’t make any judgements, as the main purpose of Coldplay lyrics is to be universally personal (if that makes sense) – reaching out to each person, but individually. It starts with synths, but synths with bass, and the vocals come in, right at the forefront of the mix (on the previous tracks, they’re deliberately set back at points, and it works amazingly well), and the synths build up around the melody. We hear an acoustic piano, which is a much less used instrument than on the previous disc. Also, the way this is instrumented is reminiscient of the first album, even though there is a nig synth sound, there are pianos, acoustics, drums, bass and electric guitars, and the general structure is fairly conventional in terms of their oeuvre. Best part? The four part harmonies as the song explodes around Jonny Bucklands electric guitar playing.
X5 – Talk: It’s almost jolly. This could be attributed to the riff, which is taken from “Computer Love” by Kraftwerk, and even though the lyrics are “scared of the future”, there stills seems an optimism about the song. “You can take a picture of something you see. In the future, where will I be? You could climb a ladder up to the sun, or write a song nobody has sung or do something that’s never been done.” The guitar here is the dominant instrument, and it sounds like the band are tighter and more band orientated than ever before. There were hints of this on Rush of Blood but it still revolved around Chris and the piano/acoustic guitar.
X6 – X&Y: Slow, and atmospheric, with an almost Eastern guitar line, using classic Coldplay slide lines. The most indie drumming on the record, with that very late 90’s rat-a-tat-tat snare sound. The refrain is the best on the record, and the best sung, with the most “moving” music, if that can be quantified. It follows the classic pattern of album sequencing – the best track usually occurs at 6, 7, or 8, if the album has 10 tracks of more. Any less, and the highlights are usually spread equally. This is because a memorable song needs to be put near the middle to project the listener into the second half. The ending switches to a completely different melody line, played on strings (real ones, unlike the synths nearer the start). It feels very final, as it is the end of the first half of the theme, and the first side of the LP.
Y1 – Speed Of Sound: It’s a single, it’s got a piano entrance and chiming guitars. DO I hear Echo and The Bunnymen? Do I hear Coldplay cliche? I do. It’s a lovely song, but it’s almost the same as Moses, the “new” track performed on Live 2003 which sadly didn’t make it onto this album, probably as it’s too happy. Still, the song sounds much better in context than it does on the radio/TV, as most singles drawn from proper albums do (as opposed to singles which are the basis for albums, as still happens in pop music). A very deliberate contrast to X&Y, and a much lighter opening to the second side/phase of the album, Speed Of Sound is the most conventionally structured song they’ve put on X&Y.
Y2 – A Message: Kicking off with an acoustic guitar, and building up the instruments of the other three, with a refrain of “My song is love, and I’m on fire for you” the Y phase is much, much happier than X, both musically and lyrically. It’s a nice song, but it won’t be a stadium filler, it’s not as epic as the others. I’m probably wrong, but it doesn’t kick me in the ribs and scream “wave your damn lighter, bitch!”.
Y3 – Low: It’s bass driven. Even though there is a sublime guitar riff floating around in higher registers, it’s a bass guitar song. As such, I bow down and respect Guy Berryman. The lyrics kick it, and start slide back into the depths of the previous X phase, until you hit the 2 minute mark. I’m not going to say what’s different and weird, as that’s a “spoiler”. I’ll just say that it’s weird as hell, and it makes so much sense, as well as being seriously cool. The groove in this song is dancey, and it’s the first song of theirs since Shiver that actually makes you want to really get up and dance around. Well, nod your head a bit faster. When he finally reaches the title, near 4:oo, it’s a change in tempo that is almost classic rock. Guitars march and Robert Fripp on “Heroes” is evoked. Man, that’s Eno, Bowie, and Fripp, all mentioned in one go. Eno? Yeah, he pitches up to put in some synths occasionally.
Y4 – The Hardest Part: It’s a piano led upbeat nhumber with depressing lyrics. I didn’t see that one coming. The album starts, at this point, to sound ever so so slightly samey, but still, it’s not a bad track. It’s not going to be a song I can see them playing very often live.
Y5 – Swallowed In The Sea: This is just one of the best songs they’ve ever written. It lilts, it’s got an absolutely killer melody and arrangement, and I can’t believe it took them this long to get a song like this out in the open. An epic, and a Great way to usher the album into the closing stages. The arrangement is so simple, and this is the beautiful thing – whilst the songs in X are wonderful, and very dense, the Y phase has a sparer feel, more like their earlier work, and the contrast between the two sections complement and work around eachother. It’s almost a sonic concept album, and this cut is the joint best on Y, along with Low and Y6: Twisted Logic.
Y6 – Twisted Logic: The best song on the album, just beating X&Y. I won’t say any more. I can’t see this being topped by anything. It’s lyrically and musically way ahead of the rest of the album, and if this is what the fourth is going to be like, I’m going to be in heaven when that one comes out.
+ – ‘Til Kingdom Come: They wrote this for Jonny Cash. It’s the missing song from Parachutes.