Monday Music Review

By londonist_mark Last edited 163 months ago
Monday Music Review

Lightning flashes around Londonist Towers. A heavy-leather-gauntlet clad fist pounds the boardroom table as our Editor screams: Controversy! I want controversy you two-fingered-typing Pitman-pushing hacks! An invisible grip tightens around our throats.

And down here in the Londonist Music Dungeon who are we to argue. If you want controversy you've got it. Album of the week: Coldplay's X&Y. What's that sound? Ah yes, the rumble of a thousand angry fingers on keyboards...

Coldplay - X&Y

First things first. If you don't like Coldplay it's highly unlikely that you're going to like this album so we suggest you stop reading now and skip straight ahead to the White Stripes review. Don't torture yourselves. Life's too short. For everyone else. Well, this is how it goes.

The leap from Parachutes to Rush Of Blood To The Head was about a wide a step as any band has taken: from introspective student bed-sit strumming to gargantuan cinemascope musical landscapes intended to be played to hundreds of thousands rather than just hundreds or indeed thousands. With a simple three note descending piano riff this most unassuming of bands stole U2's crown and become the first English band since Queen to have any genuine dominance on the global stage. Hollywood actresses fell at their feet and naive insecurity became the new black. Anthemic piano rock was born and the battle lines were drawn.

The geeks really did inherit the earth.

So does X&Y rewrite the rule book once again? Well, this is not so much a giant leap forwards as a different step in the same direction. X&Y rises on a sea of Edge style stadium conquering chiming note guitars, layers of church organ keys, plaintive piano melodies and Chris Martins falsetto vocal. Songs hang on wafer thin whispers before blasting off into the ethereal pop heavens laying waste to all around. It's an album that's deeply personal and yet also looks at the big questions. It lays reference to Prog Rock, Prince, Power Pop, REM, Radiohead and so many times, U2 but at it's heart is still Chris Martin's open hearted fragility. There are moments of perfect pop sitting shoulder to shoulder with darker, less immediate tunes - an aspect of Coldplay that's often forgotten by those who haven't forgiven them for redefining the indie-pop scene with Yellow. It's deceptivelt simple and yet complex, structured by a band who've grown to be the best at what they do. In short it's everything that the people who hate Coldplay hate and the people who love them love.

Square One sees them stealing the opening moments of 2001 A Space Odyssey before Johnny Buckland lays into some crunching chords and the song spirals off into the left field spaces left open by Politik. What If sits on a simple, classic Martin piano line, full of self, doubt before building into a stadium filling ballad that drops away juuust before threatening to turn into ELO. And whereas Square One is all about our place in the great scheme of things What If asks a few simple personal questions.

What if you decide, that you don't want me there in your life?

It's these contradictions that drive this record as the songs alternately flip between the two states.

White Shadows is the first instant classic, catchy as chlamydia on a Friday night in Croydon. It's here where you start to realise how tight the rest of this band is, Will Champion's solid, powerful druming and Guy Berryman's understated bass driving Bucklands effects board of pokey, punchey guitar lines. Fix You is classic Coldplay, stealing from everything that's come before. It builds slowly, adding layer upon layer: organ, piano, guitars, drums, bass until everyone's singing along. It's a simple statement of wanting to shield a loved one from pain,

Tears stream down your face

When you lose something you can't replace

And I will try to fix you.

It's a song that anyone who's ever cared about anyone can immediately identify with, Martin singing as husband and father. It will leave a trail of tears in it's wake and is utterly, utterly beautiful. Talk famously steals the riff from Kraftwerk's Computer Love and hearkens in tone to the quirky off centre Whisper.

X&Y drifts a little too closely into over-orchestrated prog territory and feels slightly leaden, slowing the pace down somewhat before Chris rewrites Clocks for first single Speed Of Sound. Tempo and structure changes not being enough to stop the kids from making the Crazy Frog the greatest practical joke in musical history, it will still ring out over the worlds stadia leading to lots of silly dancing and smiling.

A Message sits halfway between Green Eyes and Amsterdam and will soundtrack this summer's broken relationships. Building until it hurts it's classic lump in the throat stuff.

On a platform I'm gonna stand and and say

That I'm nothing on my own

And I love you please come home.

No one's claiming that this is poetry, Martin simply voicing his fears without fuss. Grown men will weep like widows.

Low returns to the mid tempo rock of the title track and yet still manages to fit a percussion break into the most U2 sounding like track on the record. The Hardest Part breaks out the big melodies yet again, rising and falling, deceptively simple and yet still quite wonderful. Swallowed In The Sea filters REM through Idlewild (that's a double REM filter then). The kind of song to close a set to: an anthemic slice of arm-waving stranger-hugging pop to break out the lighters and camera phones to. Twisted Logic closes the album proper on a more downbeat Radiohead trip and still pounds it out before the end. However the most interesting track is the 'extra' 'Til Kingdom Come. Written for Johnny Cash, although he never recorded it, it's an acoustic biblical country strum that would have sat quite nicely on American 4 and shows if not completely flexing their muscles that at least there's more there waiting to be discovered. Perhaps they will reinvent the wheel after all.

So will the new Coldplay songs be played at weddings and funerals and candle lit dinners from Clapham to Canberra? Of course they will. Not only that but every BBC ident from now until Christmas will be driven by one of these 13 tracks. It does exactly what you expect it to, and yet not quite in the way you were expecting. It is informed by the changes in Martin's life and yet not as you would have thought. It is mature. It is less immediate than its predecessors, but it's still a companion piece. It's not their classic album. That is yet to be written. It is though, the biggest and best of the big releases this year. It will grow on you until it haunts your every step. It is our album of the week.

Over in The Times Paul Connolly awards a meagre 3 stars for an album that suffers fromtryingtooharditis, acknowledging that it could have been much more.

Things aren't that different over atThe Guardian where Alex Petridis, who let's face it, was never really going to like this album sums up the anti-Coldplay camp pretty succinctly.

Whatever criticisms you level at X and Y, its success seems guaranteed. One industry rumour even suggests that another major rock band have shifted their album's release date to the same day as X and Y, reasoning that the kind of people who buy Coldplay albums are the kind of people who venture into a record shop only once a year, and they may consider picking up something else from a nearby shelf while they're in there. But people who venture into a record shop only once a year want to know what they're getting: they don't want a nasty surprise when they get their annual purchase home. They should be delighted with X and Y: Coldplay are not in the business of delivering surprises, nasty or otherwise.

So off to Stephen Ackroyd at Fake DIY to leave us on a high note as he takes a similar line to our good selves with 4.5 stars saying that

Perhaps it's time to ignore your image. 'X&Y' isn't just another album full of lighter moments and sing-a-longs; it's something very, very special indeed.

Oh and it's up for listening thanks to those nice folks at XFM


The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan

So now to another major rock band. But where both Oasis and Coldplay famously spent years scrapping sessions and bringing corporations to their knees, Get Behind Me Satan took all of ten days to write and record. Not exactly known as slouches in the recording studio, this is still not the kind of behaviour we expect from recording artists these days. No one just knocks off an album like that without it stinking do they?

Erm, well yes they do. Indeed The White Stripes go one better by recording their most interesting album yet.

Blue Orchid kicks things off with an immediate change in direction for husband brother wife sister Jack and Meg: Deep Purple heavy riff, Jack wearing his flamenco trousers waaaaaaay to tight and wee Meg pounding away for all she's worth. It's over almost before it's begun. The Nurse turns 473 degrees in another direction blending the score from Badlands / True Romance with Beck's marimba (the instrument not a song) and split second bursts of Slipknot. My Doorbell zips along on a minimal piano and more of Meg's cymbals and yet still sounds like a disco driven slice of Motown pop. This isn't so much eclectic as three completely different albums chopped up William Boroughs style and dropped into the same master tapes.

Forever For Her (Is Over For Me) is 70s US MOR rock, Cheap Trick without guitars. ?? Exactly. But we are getting the hang of things now. This is not White Blood Cells. This is not Elephant. This is definitely weird. Now we have Little Ghost's Country and Western campfire sing along. It takes until The Denial Twist before finally sounding like The White Stripes of recent memory. Except where have the guitars gone? It's all piano. Ah, there's one. Nope. Gone again. When Jack sings You were hearing a different song he's not lying. Jack's already proved himself to be a master folk bluesman, and what we have here incrreasingly feels like an opportunity for him to branch out and try a few different styles.

Instinct Blues could well be just that. A stomping delta blues track played on the spot. It's a heavy Zeppelin like track breaking off into scratched strings. And yet this is also where the album falls on it's feet. It's a fascinating listen and yet constantly feels like a sampler for something bigger. There are so many ideas that often none feel quite fully realised and a few tracks feel squeezed in. Brevity does serve the album well in one instance. Passive Manipulation sees Meg take vocal duty and thank the Lord it's only seconds long; flatter than a cymbal and exquisitely painful but in a very bad way. Take Take Take is a funky disfunctional little number with a doorbell in the middle that occasionally veers off into 70s rock territory.

As Ugly As I Seem is an acoustic version of Rebel Rebel fused with Blind Melon's No Rain and haunted by the ghost of Led Zeppelin II. The spectres of Page and Plant often loom heavy over much of this record, and yet the way the songs skip from style to style guarantees you'll like at least one somewhere. And even if you don't nothing hangs around long enough to worry you.

Red Rain, unfortunately, isn't a Peter gabriel cover. Rather it blends country slide with I Don't Know What To Do With Myself with more of Jack's Percy high notes and some slightly scary xylophone that might have come from an Exorcist out-take. It all ends with I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely) which is basically Jack singing his own vocals over Black Sabbath's Changes. That's the original Changes and not the Kelly Ozzy travesty of last year.

An eccentric record that often feels like an EP, it'll confuse many although there's a great deal of fun to be found within. We can't find any other reviews out there, and maybe we haven't looked hard enough, so try before you buy here.


The Tears - Here Come The Tears

And here come The Tears indeed. The only band that's more Suede than Suede. It takes a micro second for you to think that this is what Trash might have sounded like if Bernard hadn't left. Hooking up again with his old sparring partner has allowed Brett Anderson to find the Mojo he felt he had lost with the last couple of Suede albums. HCTT surfs bouyantly on a wave of jangly uptempo guitars whilst Brett indulges in his passion for pomp almost operatic pop, songs to jump up and down to. At times such as with Perfection it feels as if he's running riot like a dog off the leash through a Phil Spector production number. And if it's not Brett it's Bernard throwing some fine shapes down the front, firing off the odd fretboard pyrotechnic in the midst of some classic post Britpop hooks.

Brett's not lost his passion for writing tales of young lovers on the run from dank inner city bedsits. Two Creatures takes all the ingredients so far and mashes them up into what scholars may use in years to come to describe the empirical Brett Butler sound. And yet you could also say that about the next track Lovers, Brett bouncing up and down at the front of a festival stage bashing his tambourine for all it's worth. Actually, you could say that about pretty much every song on this record. Even the slower tracks strain to break free, Bernard Butler never playing a chord when he can run up and down his guitar jangling with the best of them. With his often low profile it's easy to forget just what an excellent guitarist he is.

It does occasionally feel as if they're trying a little too hard; as if it's their last stab at the big time and they're not going to go down without a fight. Beautiful Pain with it's epic strings and choir is often in danger of falling into rock parody; and where Asylum is the sound of falling rain on grubby streets it's also a little sludgy.

Apollo 13 rains (sic) it back in again and reminds us how well Suede can do glum when they find just the right balance of epic to throw in the chorus. As with all Suede albums they close with a slow one and A Love As Strong As Death happily throws itself into the canon whilst still managing to take a passing nod at the Floyd as it goes.

So on the most part a welcome return to form for the lanky lads. There are enough great pop tunes here to get them noticed, and more than enough to keep the old faithful happy (miserably happy?). It'll sound great live and there's no doubt that performers of such calibre will be able to carry it off. It's not perfect, none of this week's albums are but as with all of them when it does shine it's a gem.

Fake DIY's Olga Bass sums it up nicely with

'Here Come The Tears' may not change the face of a generation, but the music is pleasant at worst and inspirational at best.

Meanwhile Dave Simpson at XFM for the digital equivalant of it taking it for a spin.

So there we have it. One album of the week but they're all winners in our eyes. In fact they're all we've been listening to of late.

Last Updated 06 June 2005