CD OF THE WEEK
COLDPLAY: X&Y ***
CHRIS MARTIN, Coldplay's frontman, has always been an anxious kind of guy but, in the three years since the release of the last Coldplay album A Rush of Blood to the Head, his world has got a whole lot more demanding.
First, there is the anticipation created by the gap between albums - although three years is pretty standard when your second album made you one of the biggest bands in the world, so they were not being deliberately standoffish. There was a punishing world tour schedule to honour, followed by post-tour exhaustion and the inevitable malaise that follows living in each other's pockets for so long.
Add to that the group's notoriously exacting standards - Martin famously asserted that Coldplay would be satisfied with nothing less than reinventing the wheel on their next album. Although, having heard comeback single Speed of Sound, with its signature reverberating piano, Martin's instantly recognisable rueful, imploring voice and the effortlessly flowing melody, it appears they have decided the standard model is good for another few years.
As if he didn't have enough on his plate trying to craft the world's greatest album, Martin's marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow has catapulted him into a whole elevated realm of paparazzi-inducing celebrity which the other three blokes - guitarist Thingummy, bass player Whatsisface and drummer Soandso - will never have to wrestle with even if all three of them start dating Angelina Jolie simultaneously. Plus, he's now a dad, and that has to be a big deal, even when you are not dodging camera lenses and trying to save the world.
Like all the most responsible rockers, Martin has opted to use his profile for the general good. In the last few years, this modest, mild-mannered, eloquent and sometimes enigmatic young musician has tried on the Bono Third World spokesman mantle and found that it suits him.
And there's the rub. Because X&Y makes explicit, not just Martin's capacity to be the new Bono, but Coldplay's desire to be the new U2, even while the old U2 are as robust as ever.
There are other influences. White Shadows was directly inspired by Tears for Fears' Mad World, but has none of its eerie alienation. Instead, it is a generic piece which sounds like 1980s U2 and, therefore, not unlike the less inspired corners of the recent U2 catalogue. Talk has been talked up for its utilisation of the melody from Kraftwerk's Computer Love, but the retro computer graphic on the album sleeve and recent images of the band looking like four stooges provide a more obvious distillation of the Kraftwerk influence - and the track still sounds like U2.
Lyrically, it's a different matter. Martin is his own harshest critic, almost bipolar in this assessment of Coldplay's output. One minute he is in the greatest band in the universe - and you are convinced that he believes it - the next he is plagued by uncertainty. Such paranoia will out, but it is tempered here by sturdy assertions of constancy and devotion.
Take the first two tracks. Square One makes a gentle, encouraging call for universal affirmation. "It doesn't matter who you are," pledges Martin over a wall of New Order-style guitars, which should sound epic live. In contrast, What If, mooted as the next single, is a delicate piano ballad not so much racked with self-doubt as mildly anxious about the future ("what if you should decide that you don't want me there by your side?"), as it swells into a floaty, falsetto chorus.
Martin's favourite tracks are the simple, straightforward Fix You and A Message and, while they are both tender and pretty enough, it's hard to work out what he's getting so excited about. The heady title track, about the intoxicating rigours of love, is better, as is Low, which starts out full of indie languor, but turns out to be a real bruiser of a track. Twisted Logic has a certain menace, unusual for Coldplay and therefore intriguing, but it is never fully explored. The only real departure is hidden track Till Kingdom Come, a simple song written for Johnny Cash (he died before he could record it) about a man preparing for death. Martin doesn't have the gravitas Cash would have given it, but he does have that distinct mournful tone. There is a sense it is just here for posterity, never to be referred to again, never to impinge on the conservative structure that is the patented Coldplay sound.
So, another one for the fans. Well, there are a lot of them out there.
THE TEARS: HERE COME THE TEARS ***
EVERYTHING you need to know about the Tears' debut album is encompassed in the line "I tried to erase the past but it won't go away". For the Tears is the not-as-hotly-as-they-would-like anticipated reunion of Suede vocalist Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler ten years after Butler's acrimonious departure from one of the most audacious bands of the 1990s. The pair severed all contact but, after Suede died a lingering death, Anderson wasted no time in mending his bridges. Sadly, these days, the duo's creative spark is more of a flickering flame and Here Come the Tears is full of frothy approximations of the glory years, with Butler churning out a typically melodic guitar riffs while Anderson, in a voice past its best, delivers hackneyed lyrics about star-crossed partnerships, stoking the Anderson/Butler mythology for anyone who still cares.
SONS & DAUGHTERS: THE REPULSION BOX ****
IT'S appropriate that the debut full-length album from Glaswegian fab four Sons & Daughters should begin with the words "hit me, hit me, hit me", because first contact with The Repulsion Box feels a bit like being slugged repeatedly for 31 minutes. However, the discomfort soon passes to reveal a barrage of lean, mean and wired material, such as the raw rockabilly of Hunt and the guttural folk-punk of Red Receiver. Adele Bethel dominates the album with her strident Scottish tones, while partner Scott Paterson's murky noir opus Rama Lama steers a stealthier but no less effective course. A potent debut from a distinctive young band.
THE KING'S SINGERS: 1605 - TREASON & DISCORD *****
SIGNUM CLASSICS, 13.99
THE year is 1605. Guy Fawkes has attempted the 9/11 of his day, and failed. In the musical world, the prevailing British stars are William Byrd, John Dowland, Peter Philips and Thomas Weelkes. Their music - masses, anthems, galliards and fancies - reflects more the evolving creative richness of a period giddy from religious unrest than wracked by a single terrorist insurgence.
This cross-sectional presentation is brilliantly conceived and performed by the King's Singers, the instrumental group Concordia and the organist Sarah Baldock, with Byrd's glorious four-part Mass providing the spinal column.
Among the musical jewels that intersperse this recording is one major modern piece - Francis Pott's Master Tresham: His Ducke. A brilliant fusion of Renaissance and contemporary idioms.
MARTIN SPEAKE: CHARLIE PARKER ****
MARTIN Speake has already toured this project in Scotland with impressive results, and the recording comfortably fulfils those expectations. The material is a mixture of Parker's own compositions and standards, with a couple of new arrangements of such material by Speake. The saxophonist does not set out to pay slavish tribute by replicating Parker's own approach, but finds his own way into the tunes, while Mike Outram's creative guitar work and a rhythm section of Simon Thorpe and Dave Wickins provide support.
ALTAN: LOCAL GROUND ****
VERTICAL RECORDS, 13.99
IT'S business as usual for this great Donegal band. The mix of expressive, high-powered instrumental sets with Mairad N Mhaonaigh's lovely singing will be familiar enough to anyone who knows their music, but this album has a freshness and purity that makes it one of the best of their many recordings. The regular line-up, led by the trademark twin fiddle attack of N Mhaonaigh and Ciarn Tourish and Dermot Byrne's accordion, is augmented by a handful of guests, including Galician piper Carlos Nunez and Donal Lunny on guitar.
To order any of the CDs on these pages at the special prices listed here, call The Scotsman music line on 0131-620 8400. Prices quoted include P&P