"How long am I gonna stand with my head stuck under the sand/I'll start before I can stop, before I see things the right way up … A sign that I couldn't read, a light that I couldn't see/Some things you have to believe/Others are puzzles puzzling me … All those signs I knew what they meant/Some things you can't invent/Some get made and some get sent."
—from the hit single "Speed of Sound"
Love or hate Coldplay, it's obvious that the British pop/rock band has hit it big and is poised for career longevity. Their 2002 sophomore effort A Rush of Blood to the Head sold 3.7 million copies, and X&Y, their 2005 follow-up, sold more than a million in its first two weeks. Most reviews have been strong, but some critics offered scathing criticism as a backlash to the popularity—a sure sign of runaway success. There's also something to be said for defining a genre and, like U2 and Radiohead, becoming the standard for comparison to numerous copycats. It all comes with the territory when you're reportedly vying to become one of the biggest bands on the planet.
Regardless of how you feel about their music, Coldplay has clearly chosen to run with the qualities that made Rush so successful, only to amplify their sound for soon-to-be packed arenas. The four members won't be regarded as the most skillful musicians, relying heavily on simplistic hooks. But they're proving themselves masters of dynamic, minimalist arrangements that elicit the same emotional responses as history's greatest arena rock bands.
Guitarist Jonny Buckland sounds like he's been intensely studying the U2 playbook to borrow several Edge-styled guitar riffs, while the addition of organ and swirling synthesizer pads suggest frontman Chris Martin is currently enamored with Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, and David Bowie. The band even uses a familiar hook from Kraftwerk's "Computer Love" for their own song, "Talk." The overall effect of X&Y is like listening to a classic alternative rock band from the '70s and '80s reinvented for the new millennium—very familiar, yet somehow also different.
Coldplay also resembles U2 in that some of their songs hint at spirituality—though not as clearly as Bono and his band. In an old interview, Martin is said to read the Bible regularly, and all four members profess "admiration for Christian beliefs." Martin once told the New York Daily News that he's never "rebelled against his mother's Christian faith," but in another interview he said he "used to be a Christian." In a more recent interview with Entertainment Weekly.com, Martin said, "I'm not agnostic, because I definitely believe in God." But he went on to say he doesn't necessarily believe in a specific religion, and added this bizarre observation: "There's some powers around, whatever they might be. I mean, if there's human beings who can stare at goats and make them die, then there's big forces out there somewhere. You know what I mean?" (Note: Martin, who frequently uses the f-bomb in interviews, includes a few in this one too.)
Martin has said that X&Y refers to the unanswerable questions in life. That fits with the album's recurring themes of incompleteness, fixing souls, and leaps of faith ("you'll never know unless you try"). They're especially heavy in the majestic title track, which desperately searches for change and a way to fill the emptiness. Similarly, the dream-like thunder of "White Shadows" seems to be about regaining lost childhood innocence, or perhaps even faith: "When I was a young boy, I tried to listen and I want to feel like that." A later lyric in the same song hints at something bigger, even cosmic: "You're part of the human race/All of the stars and the outer space/Part of a system, I am."