You can get away with singing almost anything on top of a good power chord. Don't believe it? Just ask the guys from Def Leppard. I hear they pour sugar on themselves in Capri this time of year. Coldplay's new album, X&Y, is brimming with the kind of ecstatic, levitating power chords destined to make the band super-rich and have their considerable fan base screaming happily into one another's faces at concerts. Almost all the album's 13 songs have been composed with stadiums in mind, and Jonny Buckland has mastered the art of making his guitar careen between enormity and intimacy. It should come as no surprise that Coldplay put up a U2 poster in the studio in which they were making X&Y as a reminder of what they were shooting for.
Coldplay should be commended for its ambition, but it's worth noting that X&Y has a serious problemor rather a problem with seriousness. While Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion took inspiration from the U2 of The Unforgettable Fire, lead singer Chris Martin appears to have made the terrible mistake of shooting for Bono circa Rattle and Hum. It's not Martin's choice of subject matterhe rarely digresses into politics while he's singing, although he's an advocate for fair trade when he's notbut his tone. He wants to teach us how to feel better about ourselves, and his lessons have the moral superiority disguised as sensitivity that marked Bono's mighty mullet period. "Are you lost or incomplete/ Do you feel like a puzzle, you can't find your missing piece/ Tell me how you feel" he begs on Talk. "You just want somebody listening to what you say/ It doesn't matter who you are" he presumes on Square One. Martin wants to soothe us while the music tries to make us lose our heads. It's frustratinglike being handed the keys to a Ferrari that plays only James Taylor songs.
Other than in his glamorous choice of spouse (as you may have heard, he's married to Gwyneth Paltrow), Martin has never quite fit as a traditional rock star. He's just too wet. And while it's O.K. to be sensitive, it's asking a lot to be sensitive and cliched. That taste in his mouth on The Hardest Part? Bittersweet. His head? In the sand. The clouds? Silver lined. Still, the man can flat-out sing, and when the band whips up its beautiful hurricanes and he stops trying to fix us (yes, there's actually a song called Fix You), X&Y has moments where you really can lose yourself, particularly on the title track, when Martin briefly addresses life with the wife ("You and me are floating on a tidal wave") before falling into a series of high, choirboy ooh ooh oohs that speak more eloquently than anything else on the album. You can say almost anything over a power chord, and you can even say nothing. But nothing disguised as something just doesn't fly. --By Josh Tyrangiel