Coldplay is sitting on the "biggest band in the world" precipice, and the momentum created by their first two albums (2000's Parachutes, which spawned "Yellow," and 2002's A Rush Of Blood To The Head) might just push them into the slot currently held by U2. Album three, X&Y, could have sealed the deal, had Coldplay followed their own valuable formula. Instead, they've chosen to maintain their pleasant overall sound, but reject big pop hooks almost completely. That's a subtle difference, but the hooks are also the main thing separating the British band from dozens of sound-alikes: Like 'em or not, pieces of Coldplay's songsthe guitar line in "Yellow," the opening lyrics of "The Scientist," the piano intro to "Clocks"are undeniably, sometimes brilliantly sticky.
So it's strange and disappointing that the most memorable few seconds of the massively anticipated X&Y don't even belong to Coldplay: "Talk" recycles a synthesizer line from Kraftwerk's "Computer Love" pretty smashingly, with a guitar. (Full credit is given, though who knows whether Coldplay knew they'd lifted the line before the song was completed?) But like X&Y's other rare, bold moments, it's mostly squandered in the pursuit of atmosphere and depth; the former is reached quite often, the latter not nearly enough. Only three songs really, truly deliver: "Talk," the whooshing first single "Speed Of Sound," and the monster ballad "Fix You," which, in spite of some surprisingly rote lyrics ("When you try your best but you don't succeed"), captures everything endearing and comfortably predictable about Coldplay. They do big and emotional well, and usually have the hooks to hang them from.
But the majority of X&Y probably won't reach the astronomical, eight-figure number of beating hearts that found something to hold onto in A Rush Of Blood To The Head. Coldplay's grand sweep and general sound haven't changed, but they do little to defend against the common criticism that the band is capable of being triumphantly average. That may be too damning a statement for the better-than-average X&Y, but it does acknowledge that Coldplay, in spite of past glories, are capable of living closer to the median than they should.