Coldplay – X&Y

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This must have been a disappointed to people to who loved Rush of Blood. They must be disappointed by a lot of records, because failures like Rush of Blood aren’t that common. If I first heard of Coldplay through that album, I’d be really surprised. They didn’t pull a Minutes to Midnight – that’s another predictable step. They just made an album that doesn’t hint how huge you are. I guess that explains why it took me a long time to understand why this little soft rock band sells out stadiums.

X&Y discards the previous album’s experimental approach. Instead, it tries to fix Coldplay’s biggest flaw – their weak songwriting. Even the decent Parachutes relied more on sound and atmosphere rather than melodies. This might make the album sound tame and ‘uninspired’, but it’s a wise decision by a band who’s awful at pushing limits. In fact, making a tame album is exactly what this Piano Rock genre thing is all about. Why would you want to hear these supposedly gentle songs over Def Leppard production values?

They didn’t completely get rid of this production style. This album is clearly made by a band with a huge audience and enough money to make a rap song about it. “Square One” and “A Message” got walls of guitar noise that Reznor loved using in The Fragile (Only not that aggressive). The difference is that this production is pushed to the back. The huge sounds in “A Message” are there to lift the melody a little, but Chris Martin and what he’s singing are always at the center.

Speaking of the devil, Martin’s approach also changed. Since melody is now what drives the song, he puts a lot of effort on not ruining the songs. He uses the falsetto a lot less often. His normal voice isn’t exceptional, but it suits the music much better. It’s slightly muscular, but not completely. It becomes a perfect fit for music which uses a lot of guitar noise but has no aggression.

Maybe “White Shadows” and “Talk” would have been better with the production of Parachutes. There’s an attempt here at making something intimate and warm. Martin sings calmly about trying to talk to someone. That wall of guitars in “Talk” is out of place, and removes some of the emotional punch the song could have had. Still, when the album’s at its best it offers some of Coldplay’s best hooks in “White Shadows”, “Swallowed in the Sea”, “A Message” and “Talk”. There’s nothing here that deserves to be a global hit – only “Talk” does, and I’m completley fine with borrowing the melody from Kraftwerk – but it’s all good enough.

It’s bad less often than their previous album, but when it’s bad it’s the worse. “What If?” can be tossed aside. It’s cliched, insincere and the falsetto is very unconvincing. It’s no match for “Fix You” though. At least “What If?” has some humility. “Fix You” is a terrible song that should appear in every discussion of bad music. Martin sings it all in falsetto, and what better way to convince us you really feel what you’re singing by showing off how much you practiced? The lyrics are nonsense. Somehow, ignition of the bones is supposed to be uplifting. Then it ends with another Reznor-esque wall of guitars fit for a stadium. It was supposed to be a ballad. This loss of control can only means it’s a B-Side from Rush of Blood.

X&Y is perhaps the best album Coldplay will ever make. They’re a big band, and every album they will make will be a grand statement. X&Y sees them just kicking good melodies and not more than that. Even at that they’re not great. Only “Talk” rises above, but if you need an hour of soft rock it’s a nice option. There must be better options. Keane had 3 brilliant singles in Under the Iron Sea, and all Coldplay could come up with is a great song with a melody they haven’t written.

post script: The sequel to this is pretty fantastic. It turned out they can make a huge album.

 

3 x’s out of 5 y’s

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Coldplay – Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends

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Coldplay never sounded big. Every time they made something that sounded big and ambitious, it was a failure. When they stuck to simplicity, they were pretty good. They’re the biggest rock band currently, but they’re the antithesis of that. That difference is how “The Scientist” is brilliant and “Fix You” is atrocious, despite being both ballads.

What’s shocking about Viva La Vida is not that it’s experimental. There have been wilder mainstream albums. What’s shocking is how it works while being the opposite of what made Coldplay good. This isn’t a band that’s working on their strengths, but improving on their weaknesses.

You wouldn’t know it by the first title track. It’s awful. Using strings instead of guitars doesn’t hide an annoying melody. It feels like they couldn’t care less about whether the melody is nice to the ear. Everything about it tries to be big and friendly for sport stadiums. If it had guitars and drums it’d replace “We Are Champions”. A Cazy Frog remix is probably in the works.

This is why “Clocks” was awful, and any other big Coldplay song. They were only about size and never did anything else. Here, Coldplay are doing something other than sounding important. Even “42”, whose beginning is one of Coldplay’s worse moments (Trite lyrics and musical backing that sounds like a demo from X&Y), has a constantly-changing structure. The song is still a failure, but it’s an interesting one that adds more to the album than it takes from.

Other experiments are far more succesful. “Yes” is a sex song which further proves that Marin can be a great vocalist and when he puts the falsetto away. The falsetto was often what made the difference between good and bad Coldplay songs. Here, it’s thrown away most of the time.

Since there is a clearer emotional core to these songs, Martin chooses the correct singing more often than not. A sexually-charged, but still gloomy song about sex fits perfectly with the lower register. When Martin delivers pieces of wisdom we all know on “Lost!”, he remains calm. We all know that losing doesn’t mean you’re lost, and it’s good that Martin doesn’t pretend otherwise. The calm singing style gives an air of friendliness to the song. It makes it sound intimate like “Shiver” despite the the drums banging along.

The album’s apex is in the last three songs. They all justify Coldplay’s popularity. “Strawberry Swing”‘s flirting with psychedelia are forgettable compared to the pure bliss of it. The second title track is everything “Viva La Vida” wanted to be. It’s huge, hopeful but beautiful. It’s not just the progressive structure that helps, but that then knows how to handle every part. When the song goes loud Martin doesn’t sound like he’s singing in a huge stadium. He sounds like he’s re-discovering hope after the gloom of “Violet Hill”. As for that one, it’s Coldplay’s most aggressive song so far. Oddly, it works and it sounds heavy.

Some have pointed out how the album isn’t very experimental if you listen to something other than the Top 40 radio. It’s true. There are even mainstream artists who made weirder albums, like Linkin Park. Nothing here sounds like a new vision, nothing like “Sail” or “Radioactive”.

That’s okay, because the focus isn’t on pushing the sound further. Coldplay are dominated by their melodies. Everything they do exists to serve the melodies and drive them, never the opposite. The ideas here are only new for Coldplay, but they make better work of the melodies than if the band chose their ordinary set-up. The contrast between the soothing singing and drums of “Lost!” makes it work. The psychedelic vibe in “Strawberry Swing” are better to express its bliss rather than some pianos and guitars. This focus helps even the songs whose melodies are weak. “Lovers in Japan” would’ve been a B-Side if it wasn’t for its energetic instrumental.

It’s no wonder Coldplay took a more electronic route after this. It’s a great album, but the band sounds like they exhausted this style of Artsy Stadium Rock here. Then again, I thought the same when I listened to X&Y. Even if you don’t take into account that Coldplay never sounded capable of making this album, it’s still great. It’s full of great songs with great melodies and structures that go somewhere, rather than just repeat what came before. The skeptics have a few points, but here they’re wrong.

3.5 violet hills out of 5

Iron Man (2008)

Iron-Man-2008

I almost wish she was the center of the film

“Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?

There’s a reason why the film ends with the riff from the famous Black Sabbath song but without the lyrics. Black Sabbath’s song described a flawed and conflicted person. He might be interesting, but nothing we’d hope to be. The same thing can’t be said of Iron Man‘s Tony Star. Black Sabbath said about their character that nobody wants him. You couldn’t find a more unfit description for Tony Stark

If this was just a dumb superhero film, I might have forgiven that. It wouldn’t work well as one anyway, though. There isn’t enough violence and the characters aren’t insane enough. Too many moments hint that the creators wanted to make this an important superhero film. The nature of weaponry is an obvious theme. The creators understand a superhero should be a symbol for some idea, not just a human with superpowers.

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A time before duckface

Tony Stark’s suit leaves little room for exploration, though. It’s not a Medabot. Medabots symbolized toys as weapons, and were an exaggerated portrayal of violent toys. It’s not a Terminator, which was a weapon with the appearance of a human being. Tony Stark’s suit is just a means to save people and instigate the final action scene.

There is something about how weapons can be harmful in the wrong hands, but that’s an idea that goes nowhere. The film never asks if there is more to do with weapons other than attack other human beings or if weaponry (and violence) is a part of being human.

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No hair, no heart?

The people who represent the bad way of using weapons are evil clowns. The Ten Rings are just a gang of mooks who are like the bandits from Borderlands without the humor. As for Obadiah, he was stuck under Tony’s shadow and for some reason we’re expected to dislike him for his evil deeds. No matter how hard the film tries to make Obadiah look like the devil, his story remains more interesting psychologically.

Obadiah’s development happens off-screen, but his is a story that can never get old. He’s a man stuck under another’s shadow who felt like he never got what he deserved. This is a common sentiment and the fact Obadiah still lives a kickin’ life makes it even better. Even as a villain, these ideas could’ve been explored. Why Obadiah wants Stark’s place so much? Why can’t he be content with still being stinking rich? They say no matter what you do there’s always someone better than you. What if there’s only one person who’s better than you?

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This is a sci-fi film, in case you didn’t notice

Obadiah’s motives have nothing to do with these. He’s evil so there will be someone to fight with (and also because he’s not as pretty). These so-called motives are here to put a cover that a film is serious and that its villains have motives.

Tony has some sort of arc, but it barely qualifies as a cheap psycho-drama. His development happens in 20 minutes. After spending some time in a cave and seeing that people shoot each other in real life, he develops a desire to save the world. That’s all that happens. It doesn’t affect anything else. He’s still a womanizer and he still loves being funny.

He was a selfish person in the beginning. That was why we saw him have sex with a lot of women and being told he has nothing because he doesn’t have a family. You’d think that such a person would change dramatically along with his desire to save the world. You don’t have to make a complete 180-turn. Impmon became less of a bully but he still retained his sarcastic personality. Tony doesn’t become anything new but is just given a desire to save the world.

Allow me to be cynical, but that’s because the film wants to keep Tony’s coolness. The beginning isn’t meant to satire the lives of the rich and famous. It’s meant to portray them as cool, charismatic and living an ideal life. Tony may have given up selling weapons, but no way will he give up the cool lifestyle of casinos and having sex with anyone he wants. Even if the rich truly live such perfect lives with no problems at all, isn’t it insulting? Most people will never live this way, so why dangle the carrot?

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Tony aims for Chris Martin’s ex

The seriousness of the film is ridiculous when you look deeper, but there’s a good side to this. The storytelling is so focused that it feels much shorter than it is. No scenes are unnecessary. There are no extra characters that don’t serve some purpose later. Action scenes don’t clog the film with incoherent explosions. In fact, there are few of them and even in those scenes they don’t go full retard. They’re not a series of endless explosions but a collection of set-pieces that build up to a conclusion. It’s not one of the best action scenes ever, but it’s purposeful.

Pepper Potts is also a unique character to see in such a film. It’s been a while since we had a female side kick that could be worthwhile without packing heat. She’s not developed, but the script never lets her fall into cliches. She never becomes pure eye candy, or a woman whose character is passed off as strong because she kills people. She almost ended up as an empty character, but Paltrow’s performance gives her a humanity everyone else lacks. Everyone is charismatic enough, but Paltrow is the only one who plays like her character can star in a variety of other stories.

Guitars also make constant apperance in the musical score. It’s a bold decision. It’s not the most uncommon element yet but it’s still rare compared to cliched orchestras. This adds some punch to many scenes. If the only point of Tony’s character is that he’s cool and macho, add some macho guitars to go along with it.

Iron Man became popular because it’s a well-constructed film. All the professionals in the film industry and I still see a lot of incoherent stories. Simplicity is rarely a death sentence in films, especially when you want to make some easy fun. Iron Man’s attempts at depth aren’t convincing, but it’s fun enough.

3 cool suits out of 5