Musicians who shun the limelight, who choose idiosyncrasy over accessibility, who content themselves with whoever shows up and whoever picks up their records, are choosing to ignore one of pop music’s most troubling conundrums. Turning a blind eye to your art’s reception means you never have to worry yourself with reconciling music with integrity with music that sells. This is not an easy task. The guys who record sincerity for multinational record companies leave themselves open to the sharp wit of the critic and the casual fan alike. Though the pioneers will always have our applause, we should reserve a particular kind of respect for those bands who willingly make populist music without churning out rubbish, who don’t make their Kid A or their No Code, who refuse to turn their backs.
With X&Y, Coldplay’s third full-length, Britain’s university lads make a mighty case for the stadium tour. While the mopey preciousness of 2000’s Parachutes wore thin, and 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head sounded over-thought and over-done, X&Y is a bullish wash of bold melody and careening guitar — and Coldplay’s least affected record to date. Compare, for example, the mega-hit “The Scientist” from Rush of Blood and X&Y’s “Fix You.” Both build off of simple keyboard runs, both deal in Chris Martin’s impassioned platitudes, and both are easily digestible (or horrific, depending on your point-of-view). But while the older track constructs its drama with measured, plodding predictability, each verse and chorus adding another track ’til the whole things feels more like Lincoln Logs than rock ’n’ roll, “Fix You” is ready-made — a complete package with a better melody, better production, and a bigger pay-off.
Plus — and this is crucial — frontman Chris Martin is no longer just the nice boy with a big heart and box of chocolates. With his mates pulling a greater share of the sonic load, Martin is a more assertive frontman, willing to dish out lines like “the future’s for discovering” and ”steal my heart and hold my tongue/ I feel my time, my time has come” without wondering if you’d like some tea first. This may just be Martin’s new wedding ring exerting its influence, but now more than ever, Coldplay’s lyrical generalities transcend its lead singer’s domestic bliss. And with an expanded musical palate — Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode to name a few — there’s even more to wrap your arms around.
People will fall in love to this music, and Coldplay knows it. They also, finally, know how to make sincerity swing, how to touch people without hushing them up, and how to write a melody George Harrison could be proud of. Pray they don’t multiply, pray their egos stay small, but doff your hat nonetheless to the few hopeless romantics who occasionally make music worthy of the sales.