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Britpop redux (continued)


COLDPLAY, who just released what theyíre hoping will be a career-defining album in X&Y (Capitol), never dealt with the challenges Oasis still face in capturing Americaís attention. They were fortunate enough to come along in the wake of Radiohead, at a time when Thom Yorke seemed to be opting out of stardom in favor of willfully obscure, art-damaged experiments like Kid A (Capitol). That was released on October 3, 2000; on November 7, the single "Yellow" rushed in to fill the void, and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin was embraced as Englandís new "Creep." A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol, 2002) cemented Coldplayís position as purveyors of epic romantic anthems ó "Emo for girls" is how one un-PC friend of mine characterized it. Whatever, thereís no denying Martinís knack for reaching out and tugging on the heartstrings of an audience, male and female, with lines as simple as "And the truth is/I miss you," or his bandís near ascetic devotion to framing his warm rush of softly sung emotions without crowding him.

A couple of weeks back at Avalon, on a quick club tour designed to generate enthusiasm for the release of X&Y, it was hard to pick out the few new tunes. Unlike Radiohead, who at the height of their popularity defied fansí expectations with Kid A and Amnesiac, Martin seems to want to live up to the lofty goals Coldplay set with the multi-platinum Rush of Blood to the Head. And the first hint of trouble is written right into Capitolís new Coldplay bio: recording X&Y appears to have been a torturous process that lasted more than a year and a half. Martin was determined to one-up himself with X&Y, and in more than one interview, heís alluded to U2 as an example of what Coldplay were aiming for. If nothing else, admitting that straight out was a good way to pre-empt criticism. Although not much has changed about the way Coldplay structure their songs (the climactic emotional releases, the grand choruses, the yearning falsetto refrains), the production on X&Y has Rattle and Hum written all over it. The guitars are touched with more than a bit of Edgey echo, the rhythms are both driving and danceable, the soundscapes have a cinematic sweep, and everything sounds as if it had been recorded in a cathedral, right down to the church-like organ outro that leads Martin to contemplate "a sea of faces" as he searches for answers in "a new sun rising" in a voice so close to Bonoís that U2 should share in the royalties.

Iíve never viewed even outright musical theft as a punishable offense. All rock is derivative ó itís what you do with what you steal that matters. Oasis, as childishly annoying as theyíve been at various points in their career, have always put stolen riffs to good use. Coldplayís appropriation of style is masterful on X&Y; itís in the realm of substance that they falter. In last Sundayís Times, Jon Pareles called Coldplay "the decadeís most insufferable band." I wouldnít have agreed two years or even two months ago. But as Pareles points out, the "calculated self-pity" Martin indulges in is both annoying and insulting. From under a blood-red sky of layered guitars, he proclaims, "Iím on the top/I canít get back" ("Square One"), as if that were something we should pity him for. Yeah, stardomís a bitch, but U2 never complained about it, and Radiohead opted out of it altogether for a couple of albums. On X&Y, Martin strains too hard to suffer for us, and his brand of masochism isnít half as convincing as Blairís.

Oasis play the Tweeter Center in Mansfield on June 24, and Coldplay headline there on August 6; call (617) 228-6000.

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Issue Date: June 10 - 16, 2005
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