Somebody should have warned Coldplay's Chris Martin about the uplifting perils of parenthood. Once one of Brit-pop's great introspective brooders, the new papa has apparently learned that there just isn't time anymore for mopey-dopey woes about society's inherent loneliness and related existential misery. Not when there's one diaper left and Target closes in 10 minutes.
On Coldplay's new "X&Y," one of the most anticipated albums of the year, Martin often comes off as relatively chipper and well-adjusted, at times sounding like a New Age self-help guru. This is great news for his family, of course, but may prove a bit frustrating for fans. Although it's easy to get lost in the epic lushness of "X&Y" -- this is a Coldplay album after all, and a fairly good one at that -- without Martin's emotional turbulence, it's just as easy to get bored with parts of it, too.
Of course, who can blame him for feeling all warm and gushy? Martin became a husband (to actress Gwyneth Paltrow) and a father (to daughter Apple) since the release of Coldplay's platinum 2002 album, "A Rush of Blood to the Head." That pretty piece of pained introspection -- featuring tingly smash "Clocks" and the devastating ballad "The Scientist" -- was a follow-up to the 2000 debut "Parachutes," which included the breakout hit "Yellow." All told, Martin's sad-sack shtick has helped moved more than 20 million albums.
On "X&Y," the band's third album, the piano-playing Martin and his mates -- guitarist Jonny Buckland, drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman -- excel again at music that sounds as if it were written at the foot of a majestic seaside cliff. After listening to "X&Y," a good friend dubbed Coldplay a "21st century Moody Blues," and he's dead-on about that. Both are lyrically obtuse masters of gauzy grandiosity: swells of synth, swirly piano work and buzzing guitars that wrap around your head in dizzying amounts. You could even compare Coldplay to a more recent pop powerhouse: The band can match U2's knack for dramatic tempo changes and rousing crescendos.
And while Martin may not share Bono's God complex, he definitely has a Deepak Chopra thing going on here. He's looking to soothe some souls -- and sometimes does. First single "Speed of Sound" is an exuberant life-is-grand hit featuring one of Martin's trademark piano hooks. The song is evidence that Coldplay -- which reportedly scrapped a first draft of "X&Y" -- can be musically adventurous and commercially viable at the same time. Let's hope fellow Brit-poppers Radiohead are listening, because that band's recent abstract wanderings are collecting dust on shelves everywhere.
On the slow-building "Square One," about finding your way through the universe (or something like that), Coldplay displays a keen sense of humor by not-so-subtly reinterpreting the "2001" theme "Also Sprach Zarathustra," with Martin's gymnastic falsetto climbing up up up to the heavens. The rousing song's gushy finale -- "Is there anybody out there who / Is lost and hurt and lonely too?" -- is gloriously cheesy.
Martin's new 'tude, however, also can get tiring. "Fix You" -- "Lights will guide you home . . . / And I will try to fix you" -- is a sprawling pep talk without the pep. It's obvious that Coldplay was aiming for an epic to end all epics; what it achieved was a Peter Gabriel B-side. "Swallowed in the Sea" is representative of the album's numbing second half: A pretty song about dealing with the loss of a loved one, it lacks any emotional oomph. A wicked guitar solo would have been nice, too.
Only on the incredibly sad "What If," a piano ballad that builds into a full orchestral lament, does Martin truly get in touch with his dormant dark side. The song is a powerhouse for sure -- the album's exceptional centerpiece -- as husband and father envisions life without his brood. "What if you were to decide / That you don't want me there by your side?" Apparently, nobody warned Martin about that sneaky part of family life, either. Because no matter how loud and terrifying late-night ear infections (and diaper changes and binky searches . . .) can be, they're not nearly as scary as the thought of Gwynnie and Apple leaving town, and life going back to the lonely way it was.