'X&Y' stays within the grid

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Any Coldplay fans here? I am debating whether or not to buy this CD. Any thoughts?

Coldplay may not be the hottest or coolest band in rock, but it's hard to find another act that can pack as much romantic warmth and apprehensive chill into a single song.

The British sensation delivers third studio album X&Y (* * * out of four) to stores today, ending months of speculation and anticipation. Listeners hoping for a radical departure may be disappointed. Just as first single Speed of Sound is Clocks rewound, X&Y clings to the formula laid out in 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head. Chris Martin's keening vocals and bright falsetto ride over pretty melodies and pristine arrangements with soaring crescendos. The only true detour is Till Kingdom Come, a country-leaning tune meant to be recorded by Johnny Cash. (Related audio: Listen to clips)

The familiarity is reassuring and by no means a flaw. Part of Coldplay's winning alchemy is Martin's oscillating self-doubt and self-confidence, a combination that would produce flagrant mediocrity in less talented artists. In Coldplay's case, Martin's ambitions push him toward wide-screen grandeur, while insecurities drive him to anguish over details until the result is impeccable.

X&Y finds him careening down switchbacks of paranoia and audacity, wonder and dread, romance and mortality. In light of his marriage to actress Gwyneth Paltrow, tabloid readers may deduce domestic clues in some songs, particularly What If and Fix You, but few of the tracks seem unusually revealing or any more intimate than past efforts.

The key change is a livelier gait. Jonny Buckland's guitars and Will Champion's drums, muted on A Rush and 2000's mellow Parachutes, explode in a rough-and-tumble accompaniment to Martin's polite piano.

X&Y's highlights, from huge ballad Swallowed by the Sea to the bouncy White Shadows and anxiety-addled What If, bear their hallmarks: graceful songwriting, buoyant pop grooves and a touch of majesty.

Where Coldplay gets lukewarm is in its refusal to stray from its orchestrated signature. Some of Martin's swooning lyrics can be self-consciously sensitive, with an aching humility that strains credulity. The slaved-over sonics lack the accidents and eccentricities that humanize music.

Even so, a song as grand as Square One, which dares to rob a riff from the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme, can't be conjured in a physics class. X&Y is an engaging, heartfelt pop panorama. Much has been made of the band's lofty aim to model itself after U2, the undisputed champion of epic rock. While X&Y isn't an unforgettable fire, sparks do fly.

 

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