EMI – 2005 – 63 minutes

Hype is a terrible thing. For months now we have been reading about Coldplay's third album, and how it will blitz all before and behind it. It probably will commercially, and it has also been greeted by some bewilderingly sycophantic reviews, but nothing could possibly have lived up to the expectations. And sure enough, 'X&Y' doesn't add up.  

It starts brilliantly though. 'Square One' is atmospheric and punchy, snapping at the listener right up until its ill-advised segue into mellow mush towards the close. After this, only single 'Speed of Sound' comes close to what Coldplay could and should have done with 'X&Y', and back to back these songs provide evidence that Chris Martin & co haven't suddenly hit a creative wall.

It's frustrating and telling therefore that a substantial chunk of this album sees Coldplay playing it safe and obvious. The most memorable albums have always sounded like their makers were doing it for themselves – in their own time, space and place. The fact that many of Martin's compositions before this struck a chord seemed like mere coincidence. Not any more. 'X&Y' sounds like Coldplay are doing it for everyone but themselves, and their main muse would seem to be the accountants at EMI.

'What If', 'Fix You' and 'A Message' may be worthy and heartfelt, but Coldplay have done them before ('The Scientist'), and they've done them better ('Trouble'). Elsewhere, 'Talk' and 'Low' are latter-day U2 (poor, in other words), 'The Hardest Part' is pleasant but routine, and like all Coldplay albums, 'X&Y' then peters out almost unnoticed.

It's worth noting that three in and it appears that Coldplay haven't improved. Forget all the guff about maturity and confidence, 'X&Y' pales in comparison to 'A Rush of Blood to the Head', which in turn failed to hit the heights of their debut 'Parachutes'. But whereas 'A Rush...' triumphed due to the sheer personality in the songs, 'X&Y' is too anodyne and polished, and is lacking in variety, tension, and any lasting sense of wonder. 

Coldplay seem to be heeding the hype that they are now the only serious contenders for U2's crown as the world's biggest band. It goes without saying it's a ludicrous accolade, but popular music has been built on such ephemeral epithets, and thrives on them. But the higher the peak, the steeper the fall. Depeche Mode's Martin Gore once said something to the effect that once you start trying to write hits, you're in trouble. It's a warning Coldplay may want to heed next time round.

Tom Grealis

Tracklisting: Square One – What If – White Shadows – Fix You – Talk – X&Y – Speed Of Sound – A Message – Low – The Hardest Part – Swallowed In The Sea – Twisted Logic