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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Coldplay -- X&Y


Typically my reviews in the Every Album I Own series fall into three categories:
1. Concise opinions of albums I do not have strong opinions on.
2. The normal Nicsperiment review that attempts to combine in-depth analysis with some personal experience.
3. My entire life story.
This review falls into the third category.
When I graduated college 7.5 years ago, I had the same picture of the future as most graduates: empty. Nevertheless, I thought Alright world, what do you have in store for me? Like plenty of people entering adulthood, the world had a pretty brutal answer. Despite this, I look at that year more fondly than any outside of my 17th one.  I started out working full time in my father's crawfish ponds, lived with my parents, grew a beard and an afro, traveled the nation of Germany for two weeks, lost my best friend, watched crawfishing season end only to realize I had no other options, fished the Gulf of Mexico for a few weeks, re-modeled the house next door during a summer literally (literally) every person in my town went on vacation but me, leaving me in complete isolation in the middle of a swamp, couldn't afford gas to drive, beat Resident Evil Four three times, ate all the food in my parents fridge, quit sleeping, played drums, watched more late night television than ever, hiked around False River, received major surgery, hiked from my parents house all the way to Baton Rouge, got a perfect score on the Professional Entry Test, applied for jobs, borrowed twenty-bucks from my father to drive all the way up to Monroe to live with my cousin for a few days, came home, got Katrina'd (like a lot of people in the South, Hurricane Katrina changed my life. I didn't lose any family members, and my parents house made it fine (our trailer in Grand Isle did not), but my direction altered), took a disaster relief job with the Louisiana Office of Family Support, sat in an interviewer's chair and listened to people tell me the most heartbreaking messed up things I hope I will have ever hear for 12 hours a day, seven nights a week, started to feel a whole lot better about that whole "at least you have your life thing, served out my disaster-relief term, used my money to go to Texas (to visit friends I had stayed with throughout the year), came home, quit my church of fifteen years to my pastor's protests that I would now become "the next Charles Manson" and "surely marry the wrong person and end up divorced" (Thanks Uncle. Don't know why I left), my dog died, my cat died, found a church that didn't promise that my impending departure would result in the life of a serial-killer, decided to go back to school, got a random call from the library for a job application I forgot I filled out, took a library job that would start immediately the next year, visited Atlanta, saw stone mountain from the top of a ridiculously tall restaurant, watched Matt Flynn (future National Champion and Green Bay Packer record holder) turn the Miami defense to Baby Swiss, got home in time for New Year's Eve, celebrated with one friend.
Less than a year later, I was married, living with my wife in our own place, and working full time. Things change, and they change fast, but when they aren't changing, life can flow like molasses through tall grass.
During my molasses through tall grass year, music was one of my only friends.  I still have my four 2005 music playlists.  Since this is such a detailed review, here is the list starting at my disaster relief employment in September and ending at New Years Eve.
The title of this playlist, visible on the right, was "On the Precipice," and that phrase described my state of mind about as aptly as possible. I had pretty much reached the "get busy living or get busy dying" moment from The Shawshank Redemption.  I achieved that point where I was not scared in the least to die, but while I was alive, I was certainly going to live. I'm sure this mental state has a technical term, but the English Major  I earned in 2004 never taught me about that.  How about, "I might fall, but at least I'll die from climbing, not by hanging out on the ground." If that doesn't make any sense, here is a picture from Wikipedia illustrating what a "precipice" is:
Anyway, when you are continuously interviewing people whose family members have just been killed, or who have just lost everything and are leaving for some place else, you get the feeling that you are a part of something a lot bigger than yourself (I could work Rescue Me into this review like the last few, because I was VHS taping and later watching episodes from its landmark second season, but Coldplay didn't end up in that season, and eventually, I promise, this review will be about Coldplay. In fact, how about now?). If there is a dominant feeling in Coldplay's third full-length album, X&Y, it is the feeling that you are apart of something so big you can't even fathom, and maybe that is why I like it so much.
Yes, you just read an 870-word disclaimer.  Congratulations.
So with that out of the way, and with the first words of X&Y being:
You're in control, is there anywhere you wanna go?
You're in control, is there anything you wanna know?
The future's for discovering
The space in which we're traveling
You can see why I'd be a sucker for this album when it hit. It helps even more that the 70's Sci-Fi tinge that was so unnoticeable on the last album I didn't even deign to mention it is on display from the first second of X&Y, displayed by ethereal, mysterious keyboards. No piano recital here. Martin's voice comes in singing the above lyric, and he is truly in top form. A head-nod forcing beat pops up, then the guitar and bass, dare I say it, come in rocking. Coldplay actually sound dangerous! And they keep it up throughout the album.

On X&Y, Coldplay finally embrace the worldwide stage they've been afforded. I get why Coldplay will never reach the levels of relevance U2 and few others have achieved. Chris Martin's lyrics are just too general. But here they truly hit the universal sweet-spot. His lyrics and the band's music on X&Y conjure up countless mysteries and riddles, glistening caves, infinite, otherworldly cathedrals, towering jungles, the depths of space, taking risks. Jacob might not come anywhere close to overcoming the angel here, but at least Coldplay finally sound like adults, instead of the guy in the co-ed dorm that is "just friends" with all the girls. If that sounds like a diss, it's not. I'm not sure anyone will again be able to combine political aspects with their music the way U2 did. Coldplay are not doing anything close to that, but they are at least pointing at things and saying "that's neat" instead of just agreeing when somebody else says it. When you are really talented at that, you may not be capable of a 10/10, but if you do it perfectly, you can sure get a nine, and Coldplay do that with X&Y.
Even the more tender, personal relationship songs that should be gooey throwaways are epics here. "Fix You" is a beautiful song with a transcendent payoff so big, it scored an advertisement for Peter Jackson's King Kong, an emotional juggernaut of a film that is so incredible, it doesn't even have to defy you if you say it is not. Plus Roget Ebert gave King Kong a four star review in which he calls it "surprisingly emotional and involving" He is right, and upon viewing the film, I was shocked at how much I identified with Kong. We both ended up taken from our comfortable lives to a strange place that didn't seem to care about or understand us. The only difference is, he died. Maybe a little emo, but that film did such a good job of making the ape relate-able. My now wife cried real tears upon seeing the Coldplay backed commercial, and she has to this day never even seen the film.

Aw, crabcakes, it just made me cry, too. Or maybe that's just the power of the song. I can't imagine anything on a previous Coldplay album powerful enough to elicit that sort of emotional response. X&Y is just that good. I gave it album of the year in 2005, and truth be told, I might do it again today. Sufjan Stevens' Illinois is the better album from the year, a sure ten, and yet as I stated in my review and in a follow up piece, there is just something about the universality of X&Y that gives it an edge (EDIT: Blindside's The Great Depression may be better than both these albums).  Everyone feels these things. Also, I said in my original review on the best of list that "I don't know if any song off of X&Y will ever make me cry," and nearly seven years later and twenty seconds ago, I just got proven wrong. Maybe it's just the power of Kong, maybe it's just the nostalgia, or maybe I'm just on my man-period. Whatever the case, X&Y definitely still holds up. It signifies that moment Coldplay went from a serviceable band to a very good one ready to take on the world. It also marks a milestone in my own life. I'm glad to have had it then, and I'm glad to have it now. Thanks for reading.

2005 Capitol
1 Square One 4:47
2 What If 4:57
3 White Shadows 5:28
4 Fix You 4:54
5 Talk 5:11
6 X&Y 4:34
7 Speed of Sound 4:48
8 A Message 4:45
9 Low 5:32
10 The Hardest Part 4:25
11 Swallowed in the Sea 3:58
12 Twisted Logic 5:01
13 Til Kingdom Come [Hidden Track] 4:10

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