Album: Coldplay

X&Y, PARLOPHONE
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Rarely has an album been saddled with the level of expectation surrounding Coldplay's X&Y, the non-appearance of which earlier this year was cited as causing a drop in EMI's share price. More than usually paranoid about piracy, EMI's promo review copies were hand-delivered on receipt of a written promise not to let anyone else listen. They were attributed to a fictional group, The Fir Trees. This, clearly, is the company's Big Album for 2005. Thousands of jobs depend on it.

Rarely has an album been saddled with the level of expectation surrounding Coldplay's X&Y, the non-appearance of which earlier this year was cited as causing a drop in EMI's share price. More than usually paranoid about piracy, EMI's promo review copies were hand-delivered on receipt of a written promise not to let anyone else listen. They were attributed to a fictional group, The Fir Trees. This, clearly, is the company's Big Album for 2005. Thousands of jobs depend on it.

That's some pressure on a band, and I suppose, by their own standards, Coldplay have risen to the challenge. X&Y will doubtless fulfill EMI's expectations, sell in the tens of millions, and establish the band as just about the biggest name in global pop. But there will be some who can't help feeling they've heard it all before, so unerringly does the album stick to the Coldplay formula that has proven so profitable not just for them, but for the likes of Keane, Athlete and Snow Patrol as well.

It barely attempts to confront the usual business of Difficult Third Albums - trying to broaden artistic reach and seek out new means of expression. Where a group like Radiohead seem to bristle at being asked to repeat themselves, Coldplay here show themselves to be almost as one-dimensional as Oasis, plugging away at the same old themes in the same old manner.

There's no denying that they do what they do brilliantly: most of the 13 tracks sweep by with the epic solemnity of a state funeral, their huge, heartbreaking chord-changes sucker-punching you with emotional logic, and Chris Martin's voice slipping into that cracked falsetto exactly when expected. But there's no light and shade, just a pervasive crepuscular tone that reflects the lack of emotional range. There's no anger or rage, no real transcendent joy, just a mood of hapless sympathy. Thematically, it's like the flipside to Nine Inch Nails' With Teeth, except where Trent Reznor is driven to nihilistic fury by life's cruel afflictions, Martin offers a consoling arm round the shoulder and a nice cup of tea.

Tracks such as "Talk", "Fix You" and "A Message" are vaguely similar, songs of solace articulating broad misgivings: "I'm scared about the future and I want to talk to you"; "When you feel so tired and you can't sleep/ Stuck in reverse", etc, resolved in platitudes like "I will try to fix you" and "You don't have to be alone". There's no grappling with the social or political causes of the problems, just a bland emotional poultice.

But they do have a winning way with a tune. And in "What If" and the lighters-aloft epic "X&Y" itself, they wield the same oceanic sense of unease and uplift as Pink Floyd - a clear indication of their business ambitions, even though there's no hint of the Floyd's questing artistic temperament.

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