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On June 6th, 2005, Coldplay released their 3rd album, “X&Y“. When a band releases two albums that are successful, with the second being a major step on from their debut, the pressure that surrounds the third record can almost become unbearable. Many acts have crumbled under the weight of expectations like these.
Their previous offering, “A Rush of Blood To The Head”, had seen Coldplay become one of the major UK acts and the flag bearers for the steady yet unspectacular brand of acts that were filling the musical scene in the UK at the time. To be fair to Coldplay, this scene developed through the number of bands that imitated their style and the number that were signed by record companies wanting “their” Coldplay and pushing their signings along this path.
This was the situation that faced Coldplay, as they tortured themselves in an attempt to better “A Rush of Blood To The Head” but as everyone looked to the band for something new, the recording process took longer and longer.
It was obvious from early on that Coldplay were in no hurry to release another record. In March 2004 Chris Martin said, “We really feel that we have to be away for a while and we certainly won’t release anything this year, because I think people are a bit sick of us.” The reality was probably that Coldplay were in fact sick of the rigors of permanently living out of a suitcase and being in the media glare.
Drummer Will Champion said, “because the prospect of touring again was so daunting that we felt we should take our time and also we wanted to make sure that it was the best it could possibly be”. The band was now spread out around the world with families (most famously, lead singer Chris Martin was by now married to Hollywood actress Gwenyth Paltrow and celebrated the birth of their first child) and no one was really sure when or if the new album would be released.
The bands initial work with producer Ken Nelson (responsible for their first two albums, “Parachutes” and “A Rush of Blood To The Head”) was unceremoniously dumped as the band deemed it “flat” and “passionless”. The band then started working with Danton Supple who had mixed “A Rush of Blood To The Head” and more songs were written and recorded.
Whatever was frustrating Coldplay’s attempt to make a new record, it certainly wasn’t effort as the band recorded around 60 new songs over 18 months in an attempt to update and reinvigorate their sound. Initially Coldplay seemed to suffer from the problems of many big acts as the record company gave them too much leeway. When asked why it took so long, Chris Martin said they kept adding finishing touches to the record and would just keep finding something to go back and change.
It took so long that it led to the band having an impact on the stock exchange, as EMI, parent company of Parlophone and Capitol Records (their UK and US labels respectively) announced share and profit warnings after the expected release date of “X&Y” came and went.
Finally the first single, “Speed of Sound”, was released sounding very similar to their earlier hit single “Clocks”. Mimicking the sound or style of a former hit to launch a new release was not unfamiliar in the music business, with The Beatles doing it regularly in their early days, but some critics saw this as a sign that Coldplay were losing their touch.
When the full album was released, the critical response to “X&Y” was significantly muted in comparison to what was bestowed upon “A Rush of Blood To The Head” and on first listen it does seem that “X&Y” wasn’t a massive step on from “A Rush of Blood To The Head”.
One of the things that does come through on “X&Y” is that whereas the first two albums had been very personal affairs, Coldplay had decided to take a step back with this one. Lyrically Chris Martin preferring to use “you” rather than “I” and subject matter is left suitably vague.
Influences by bands such as Kraftwerk (augmented with the fact that ‘Talk’ had a songwriting credit to Kraftwerk as it shares the main riff from ‘Computer Love’ by the German robots) and Bowie/Eno in their Berlin period. The track “Low” even has Brian Eno playing on it (and the title a distinct nod to the Bowie album) compound this impersonal feeling, which does not sit well with Coldplay‘s earlier, more impassioned stance. As critic Robert Christgau put it in his review of “X&Y“, “Precise, bland, and banal, their sensitivity emotionless and their musicality never surprising, they’re the definition of a pleasant bore – easy to tune out, impossible to care for”
With hindsight it is easy to see Coldplay were paralyzed by their own success. They went out to make a Coldplay album and so made something lacking the zest of their first two albums. Although it received nothing like the critical mauling of U2’s “Rattle and Hum” it felt like Coldplay are reaching the point where they needed to re-invent themselves and discover Coldplay 2.0 in the way U2 had with “Achtung Baby”.
When Coldplay returned to record their next album they did so with Brian Eno at the helm. Brian Eno, the man behind the desk when Bowie and U2 went through some of their most wrenching re-inventions, took them away from the familiar and pushed them into newer territory on 2008‘s “Vive La Vida”.
For all this, “X&Y” debuted at number one in 30 countries and was the biggest selling record of 2005 globally (in the USA it was the second biggest, behind 50 Cent’s “The Massacre”) “X&Y” has sold over 10 million copies to date and many of the songs have become fan favorites and feature heavily in Coldplay‘s current set list.
There is no doubt that Coldplay manage to polarize opinion in music fans but for a band who many people actively dislike, they seem to sell a lot of units and entertain huge audiences in the live arena. “X&Y” may not have been 2005‘s most dynamic or creative album but the sales show that many people were delighted with what Coldplay offer and the band look set to continue for many years to come.
- Jonny Buckland – Guitar
- Will Champion – Drums
- Guy Berryman – Bass
- Chris Martin – Vocals
- Producer – Coldplay, Danton Supple (tracks: 1, 2, 5 to 11), Ken Nelson (tracks: 3, 4, 12, 13)
- Engineer – Carmen Rizzo, Mark Phythian, Rob Smith
- Assistant Engineer – Adam Noble, Adam Scheuermann, Andrea Wright, Brad Spence, Bryan Russell, Dan Porter, Jake Jackson, Jon Bailey, Jon Withnal, Mathieu LeJeune, Mike Pierce, Rob Smith, Taz Mattar, Tim Roe, Will Hensley
- Pro Tools Engineer – Keith Gary
- Mastering – Chris Athens, George Marino
- Mixing – Michael H. Brauer
- Brian Eno – Synthesizer on “Low”
- Matt McGuin – Guitar on “Square One”
- Ann Lines – Strings
- Audrey Riley – Strings
- Chris Tombling – Strings
- Greg Warren Wilson – Strings
- Laura Melhuish – Strings
- Peter Lale – Strings
- Richard George – Strings
- Sue Dench – Strings
All songs written by Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion and Chris Martin, except where noted.
- “Square One” – 4:47
- “What If” – 4:57
- “White Shadows” – 5:28
- “Fix You” – 4:54
- “Talk” (Berryman, Buckland, Champion, Martin, Hütter, Bartos, Schult) – 5:11
- “X&Y” – 4:34
- “Speed of Sound” – 4:48
- “A Message” – 4:45
- “Low” – 5:32
- “The Hardest Part” – 4:25
- “Swallowed in the Sea” – 3:58
- “Twisted Logic” – 5:01 (on the iTunes version this track is only 4:31 as there is 30 seconds silence at the end before the hidden track)
- “‘Til Kingdom Come” – 4:12 (hidden track)
Capitol Records CDP 7243 4 74786 2 8 and CDP 0946 3 12028 2 7
Parlophone 7243 4 74786 2 8
It was originally planned for American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash to sing “‘Til Kingdom Come” with Martin, but sadly Johnny Cash died before they were able to schedule a recording session.