You always hear about the biggest artists in the world – like ACDC and the Rolling Stones having a concert in Toronto with over 500,000 people in attendance, or Michael Jackson selling 27,000,000 copies of his album Thriller, or David Bowie having one of the highest grossing tours of all time. But being big enough to affect the business efforts of a record label the size of EMI? It sounds unlikely.
Yet, just under a month out from the release of Coldplay’s third album, X and Y, this was the very claim being made by EMI chairman Eric Nicoli, after EMI, Coldplays record label for those of you keeping track at home, announced low profits for the fourth quarter of 2004, some of which was attributed to record release delays by 2 EMI artists, Coldplay and the Gorillaz.
“Although clearly with profits down, and not sparkling results, we feel that the company is in good shape,” said Nicoli in late May 2005. “Certainly with the albums that slipped out last year to appear earlier this year we feel that we are going to start the new fiscal year with some decent momentum. We feel good about the release schedule in both divisions in the year as we look forward.”
And how did Chris Martin, Coldplay singer and pianist, respond? “I don’t really care about EMI. I’m not concerned about that,” he said. “I think shareholders are the greatest evil of this modern world.”
Is it this attitude towards business, as well as Coldplays strong views on equal and fair trade, that draws such a large number of comparisons to groups like U2 or Radiohead? Maybe. But Coldplay is not so much focused on those sorts of things as they are on making quality music.
In fact, making quality music is something Coldplay do quite well, as anyone who has heard the band could probably tell you. 2000’s debut album, Parachutes, led by hit single Yellow, gained the band a massive following worldwide, based on fantastic tracks like Yellow, Don’t Panic, Shiver and Trouble. In 2002, Coldplay released sophomore effort A Rush of Blood to the Head, another fantastic, and enormously successful album, which featured an astonishing number of hit singles, including In My Place, The Scientist, Clocks and God Put a Smile On Your Face.
A Rush Of Blood To The Head did remarkably in the US, as well as the UK and around the world, and even won the band 2 Grammy awards, beating off U2, one of the bands that Coldplay is constantly compared to – but also a band who Chris Martin, and all of Coldplay, respect immensely too.
“To me, they’re like Mount Everest or the Taj Mahal or the Sears Tower,” Martin said. “They’re a great, great thing. And if you’re going to do something, you may as well aim to do something great. I’m not saying we’re better than them. I’m just saying if you’re going to aim for anything, you might as well aim for the best.”
In late 2003 Coldplay re-entered the studio, aiming to do the best for their next album, to be released in late 2004. But of course, aiming for best often involves more time than you initially think, which is why X and Y was delayed until mid 2005 – 8th June 2005, to be exact.
To be fair, the word ‘best’ is probably the best word to describe X and Y. Coldplay have, in spending 6 extra months on the album, made one of the better records of the year, and by far their best album to date.
Said bass player Guy Berryman: “Some of the tracks didn’t stand up quality wise or they were a bit boring, but all we ever really set out to do with X and Y was make something which demonstrates that we pushed ourselves further in terms of songwriting and musicianship.”
Critics will say that it sounds too electronic, or too slow. In fact, if anything, the electronic aspect is what sets X and Y apart from its predecessor, and lends itself well to the tracks on here. But there are too many layers of sound on X and Y to generalise it in that way. Says Chris Martin, “There’s definitely influences from electronica, but I would hate it if our album could be described in one phrase, like ‘It’s an electronic album’ because it isn’t at all.”
As always, the engine room of Coldplay is the drums and bass, and Will Champion (drummer) and Berryman (bass player) really stand out on this album, not for their technical playing or any solos, but purely based on their consistency. Jon Buckland, guitarist, is the key player here, with his melodically simple guitar work on some tracks and stirringly technical riffing on others give the songs an aspect beyond the piano and vocal work of Chris Martin.
But make no mistake, Chris Martin is the main man here, with his vocals, piano and lyrics all playing equally important parts on the tracks. Of course the trick with Coldplay is to remember that its not Chris Martin’s band, but a band with Chris Martin in it – even if Martin’s crazed vocals and piano are the thing that sticks out most.
In saying that, though, this is probably Coldplay’s most balanced work, with far less tracks depending solely on the piano for its melody. Sure, the piano is there, but if you take out the piano you’ve still got a great song. Ditto for any of the other instruments.
“Tracks like White Shadows felt quite fresh for us and I think it sounds really different to anything that we’ve done before,” adds Berryman. “We just wanted to push the boat out as far as it can go to create something that is hopefully more complete than anything we’ve done previously.”
Adds Martin: “Everything we do is about the songs. Quality songwriting, that’s all we care about. When you hear a quality song it stands out so much from the rest of the music out there.”
Some highlights of the album include the first single, Speed of Sound, as well as some of the earlier tracks on the album, namely Square One, What If and White Shadow, as well as the brilliant Low and Twisted Logic later on. Its hard to pick a favourite, but I can say that the best compliment I can give X and Y is that every track is quality, from track 1 through track 13. Overall I give X and Y a 9.5 out of 10 – this is a near perfect CD, and there is something for everyone on here. Armed with their new album, Coldplay look set to conquer the world for the second time in their careers. Here’s looking forward to the world tour!