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OK, I bought this album. On the day after if came out, with my own money. So I don't expect any sympathy for being disappointed at its unoriginal sound, I knew that Coldplay would still be making their familiar hand-wringing melodic rock, buffed with radio friendly productions. All those things I don't mind and sometimes like, but the mathematical title, abstract cover art and Kraftwerk-quoting are as far as they go towards taking any risks. I didn't expect "Kid A", but Doves or Elbow have shown that it's possible to inject musical imagination into this genre. This is the sound of a complacent band playing it safe.
Chris Martin has an affecting voice, but his lyrics seem to have been the output of a pop-song rhyme generator. I'm surprised there's no "wait / hesitate" or "make it / fake it" anywhere. Every other song begins with him in a soft spotlight, simpering some platitude over a quiet hum of piano or keyboard. "Swallowed in the Sea" even goes full circle with a cheesy, sensitive piano ending to mirror its beginning. There's nothing as fresh as the floating melodies that adorned "Parachutes".
It's only when they turn up the volume that the songwriting takes on personality. "Square One" kicks the album off with power, using its big-money production wisely. While the final string frenzy doesn't quite make up for the insipidity of "What If", the wet-lettuce opening of "Fix You" is redeemed by its big choral-harmony climax. "Talk" transforms the melodic bleeps of Kraftwerk's "Computer Love" into a pinging guitar riff. John Buckland always gives a robust guitar backbone to Martin's crooning, although his and The Edge's styles seem to be converging in opposite directions towards a watered-down middle of the road. From its intro, "White Shadows" could have easily been mistaken for something from U2's latest. One welcome surprise is the gently shuffling acoustic of "Till Kingdom Come", proving that at least they know how to start and end an album.
There also seems to be a couple of nods to George Harrison, especially the "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"-invoking riff of "Twisted Logic". At the risk of being accused of making lazy Beatles comparisons, "What If"'s bassline has echoes of "Something", which, lest we forget, was an equally drippy ballad. I sense EMI's hand in the inclusion of "Speed of Sound", with an intro and tune that are far too similar to their previous album's biggest hit "Clocks". Whether it was the band or the suits who chose this as the first single, it smells of cynicism.
I don't think my tastes have changed, and I don't think the Emperor's new clothes have finally been revealed, I just hear a band lazily coasting on their third album.
June 13, 2005