way I can work out how to make an album is to just live it and
breathe it every day until it's finished," says frontman
Chris Martin. "For as long as it takes."
For their third album X&Y, the British quartet took
18 months before they were ready for the last-minute creative
sprint to the finish line. But when you're passionate about your
music, you do whatever it takes. "We pushed ourselves as
hard as we could," explains guitarist Jonny Buckland. "We
needed to feel excited, and we weren't willing to put out an album
until it was right."
X&Y is worth the wait. It's a big album in every
sense of the word, with huge songs that build to a massive, layered
sound that breaks new ground for Coldplay. The lyrics deal with
life and death, love and loss. They're about being fascinated
by the world and accepting that some things can never be fully
understood. "In mathematics X and Y were always the answers,
but in life no one knows," Martin says. "To me, the
album is about those unanswerable questions, and what you should
do about not being able to explain all the unknown variables."
In 2003, after completing a lengthy sell-out world tour to promote
their blockbuster second album A Rush of Blood to the Head,
Martin and Buckland headed to Chicago to write, bringing back
demos for everyone to work on in Liverpool with the band's longtime
collaborator and producer Ken Nelson. Determined to avoid their
usual punishing recording schedule, the band worked at leisurely
pace, each member coming into the studio to add his own touches.
It wasn't until the summer of 2004 that the guys began to realize
something felt wrong. "It had just become quite.. easy,"
says drummer Will Champion. "And nothing good ever comes
easy. It didn't have any passion to it, any energy." Adds
Buckland: "It just wasn't good enough. It didn't sound like
there was any interaction between us. We got too obsessed with
making it perfect."
So that summer, for the first time in a year, the four, Martin,
Buckland, Champion, and bassist Guy Berryman, who met in the mid-'90s
during their first week at University College in London, began
to spend time together again. They played soccer and baseball.
They went out for dinner. They made silly videos and put them
up on their website. They forgot about the distractions of being
in a mega-famous band and remembered that they were friends first
"The songs had no identity," says Martin. "So
we decided to strip everything away, and go back into a crummy
rehearsal room with beer on the floor and band names etched into
the wood pillars, and just play together." There they broke
down dynamics of the songs they'd just spent a year recording
and made them work.
When Coldplay returned to the studio to work with Danton Supple,
who mixed A Rush Of Blood to the Head, they re-recorded
several of the old tracks. It happened quickly this time, with
all the energy, and imperfections that give their songs soul.
Then in January, 2005, they produced three more tracks, including
the simple, moving love song "A Message," which Martin
describes as a surprise gift. "I didn't write it as much
as it got sent. I woke up in the middle of the night, ran downstairs,
and this song arrived, like a late-night visitor. It was so exciting
- like the last fish you catch before packing up, when everyone
else has gone home."
X&Y is filled with the kind of raw, emotional music
for which Coldplay is well-known. "Swallowed In The Sea"
is about coming to terms with the death of people close to you.
The achingly beautiful "What If" proves that Martin
hasn't lost the neurotic tendencies that fuel his lyrics: "The
happier you are," he sings, "the more you have to lose."
Elsewhere, "Twisted Logic" shows a darker side to the
band: "It's the angriest song we've ever done," says
Martin. "It's not polite, which I'm happy about."
The band still deliver their trademark brand of pristine songwriting,
but this album is the sound of musicians who have matured and
are ready to try new things. "With any of our records, it
has to be a great song," says Champion, "but the difference
on this album is in what we've chosen to do with them. Some have
a faster groove, some are a bit more 'rock,' some sound more electro."
So X&Y is another leap forward for this band that
has earned four Grammys® (including the prestigious Record
of the Year award for "Clocks") and watched their 2000
debut Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head sell a combined
20 million copies worldwide. "It's the most raw statement
of our band, the sound of us really being ourselves," Martin
says. "No one could be replaced by anyone else. Jonny, Guy,
and Will are all capable of doing things that I never would have
thought of, and that means more than any Grammy®. That stuff
is nice, but it's not why we do it. We want to make something
that moves us, because after all the hype and awards and whatever,
that's all music is."