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Coldplay

     Parachutes (Nettwerk, 2000)
      A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol, 2002)
    Live 2003 (Capitol, 2003)
    X&Y (Capitol, 2005)
     The Singles 1999-2006 (Capitol, 2007)
     Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends (Capitol, 2008)
    Prospekt's March EP (Capitol, 2009)
    LeftRightLeftRightLeft (Capitol, 2009)

At first, Coldplay were burdened: Along with Travis, Doves, Muse, and a few other young bands busting out of post–OK Computer Britain, Coldplay were tagged with the dreaded designation "the new Radiohead." You can hear why: The widescreen melancholy of their first two albums wears the influence of Thom Yorke and company like a comfortable old overcoat, without shame or apology. But the influence of Jeff Buckley and U2 is nearly as strong, and singer Chris Martin's empathetic, often falsetto vocals are all his own. The Londoners' mix of melodic warmth and meticulous digital-age sonics helped them become one the biggest bands of the 2000s.

Gangly, awkward, but still charming, the Coldplay of Parachutes obviously had some growing-up issues to deal with. Both the songs and the playing here can sound tentative at times. But the ambient guitar textures of "Don't Panic," and the swooning chorus of "Shiver" proved Martin was more than just pretty face. The modern rock hit "Yellow" is still Coldplay's signature song: A beautiful, moony guitar ballad on which Martin deploys his little-lost-boy yelp with weapons-grade sincerity.

A Rush of Blood to the Head delivers on the promise of Parachutes, hanging onto the Floydian guiars but rocking out and delivering heart-stopping tracks like "Clocks" and the austerely beautiful death meditation "Amsterdam." In its arena-scale romance and twinkling guitar textures, Rush of Blood showed a band both loveable and increasingly ambitious.

That's not the case on X&Y which finds Coldplay struggling with how to grow in the glare of worldwide success. The songs are often humorless and pushy, and Martin's lyrics lack the deeper meaning the album seems desperate to provide. Exceptions to the rule are the restless opener "Square One" and the winning love song "A Message," but overall X&Y proves growing up is still hard to do, even for next big things.

Coldplay continued down an uncertain creative path with Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, on which producers Brian Eno and Markus Dravs aim to help the band craft more diverse and experimental music. The results are mixed ("42" sounds like three different songs awkwardly stitched together after the fact), and the busy production tends to take precedence over memorable melodies. When the band loosens up, things get more interesting, as on the propulsive instrumental opener "Life in Technicolor" and the effects-drenched, My Bloody Valentine-ish "Chinese Sleep Chant." Coldplay's evolution is embodied by "Viva La Vida," a heavily orchestrated redemption song that quickly became the biggest hit of its career, and for the most part, the material here resonates despite all the new bells and whistles. Several tunes that didn't make the cut for Viva La Vida can be found on Prospekt's March, the best of which are the roof-raising "Glass of Water" and the oddly jovial "Rainy Day," which has Eno's digital fingerprints all over it. Nobody particularly needed to hear Jay-Z rap on "Lost," but Coldplay had earned such indulgences at this point.

An only intermittently thrilling live band, Coldplay is captured in concert on Live 2003 and LeftRightLeftRightLeft. The former has a couple of average then-new songs and B-sides ("Moses," "One I Love") and faithful renditions of hits like "Yellow" and "In My Place," while the latter, given away as a free download on the band's Web site and at shows, is dominated by buffed-up takes on Viva La Vida selections.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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