By Cam LindsayWhen a band like Coldplay make statements to the press saying they're looking to "reinvent the wheel" with their third record, people tend to blow it out of proportion. As highly successful artists with fierce determination, the band felt they needed to make some changes with their arena-readied rock — not to give fans what they want, but to keep it interesting.
Bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion know expectations are high, but the band put developing their sound first. "When we make an album, we go in predominantly to make one for ourselves," Berryman says, "to prove that we can improve and we can push ourselves further."
To say that Coldplay have reinvented themselves with their third release is an exaggeration, but — as they proved on 2002's ten million-selling A Rush of Blood to the Head — there is always room to grow. X&Y is quick to identify that progression, revealing their ambition within seconds of the leadoff track. "Square One" opens with a warm electronic sensation and keeps growing into a dense structure filled with unpredictable tangents and an outbreak of strident guitars and sweeping cathedral organs.
But it was Berryman's part-time hobby as a technophile that led to the biggest change on X&Y — a heavier electronic presence. Though not as severe as Radiohead's intense adoption of Warp-esque sounds, Berryman dabbled with programming to subtly introduce synthesisers as an alternative to the familiar Coldplay piano. "I was using Logical Audio, and instead of having physical keyboards, you get them as programs to use. I spent a lot of time going through preset sounds and creating sounds," he says. "The late '70s was really the period of music that we were listening to. We'd all been getting into things like Brian Eno and David Bowie, so that was where our influence came from."
Champion agrees that these additions have meant a great step forward for the band's renaissance. "The way in which we instrument songs entirely depends on what sounds best for it; it doesn't necessarily come from a desire to write a keyboard song or a guitar song, just what sounds best for that specific song. It just turned out that a lot of them were more synth-based.
"It's a progression in the terms that we aim for everything to be a progression — in how we play our instruments, the production techniques, the videos and artwork, everything had to be something that we'd pushed ourselves with. [The synths] were a progression but that wasn't the important thing in terms of instrumentation, it was what things we were improving. Everything had to be something that we'd pushed."
As they've come to realise, Coldplay can't please everyone, nor can they simply ditch their trademark sound, so those reports of this being a radical companion to Bowie's Lodger or taking the riff from Kraftwerk's "Computer Love" into a whole new direction of Teutonic techno pop should be abolished right now. They are still Coldplay — the soft rock band it's okay to like.
"I think we've always said it to each other and we all know that none of us could do it on our own," according to Berryman. "It would be just absolutely terrible. The music we make — this is a cliché — but it is greater than the sum of our four parts. It's very difficult to imagine not being in this band. We have such an amazing time listening and making music, so why would we want to change that?"