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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The third album from the British rock band Coldplay is being released tomorrow. It's called "X&Y." For the past five years Coldplay has been steadily climbing the ladder of pop music success, and with this record many in the music business believe that the four soft-spoken Brits will earn the title `biggest band in the world.' Here's our critic, Mikel Jollett.

(Soundbite of music)

MIKEL JOLLETT reporting:

Woody Allen once famously said that `90 percent of life is showing up'; that most of the time you get the job simply because you're there, whether that job is key grip or president. This is the most common critique thrown at the band Coldplay: that they're not very musical, smart, inventive or brash; they just happened to show up with their big hit "Yellow" in 2000 when a whole scene was ready to burst.

(Soundbite of "Yellow")

COLDPLAY: (Singing) Look at the stars. Look how they shine for you.

JOLLETT: The Coldplay sound was shared by many bands, mostly from England, mostly with snappy haircuts, all of whom capitalized on the trick of turning the formula for punk rock on its head. Instead of lo-fi screaming, they practiced hi-fi whispering, which isn't as easy as it sounds.

(Soundbite of "Speed of Sound")

COLDPLAY: (Singing) All that noise and all that sound, all those pieces that I have found, and birds go flying at the speed of sound to show you how it all began. Birds come flying from the underground. If you could see it, then you'd understand.

JOLLETT: "X&Y" is not a great record in the way Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde" was or the way Radiohead's "OK Computer" was. Those were groundbreaking. "X&Y" isn't. It's a great record in the way chocolate is a great dessert, which is to say lots of different people will like it. But that doesn't mean the new Coldplay record is trite. Does anyone consider chocolate trite? It's simply universal. With this record, Coldplay stand to be the first modern rock band that both me and my grandmother could like.

(Soundbite of music)

JOLLETT: See, the structure of popular music, from Mozart to Tom Waits, is essentially the same: introduce a motif, vary that motif, then return to the original motif while incorporating the variations. Now this is, by no means, a formula for success. After all, some motifs are better than others. But when it works, when it occurs--for lack of a better term--honestly, as it does in this record, then no matter the genre, it's simply--well, listen.

(Soundbite of "The Hardest Part")

COLDPLAY: (Singing) I wonder what it's all about. I wonder what it's all about. Everything I know is wrong. Everything I do just comes undone. And everything is torn apart...

JOLLETT: What's most charming about Coldplay is the fact that they know what they are and what they are not. In an age of overstuffed ego, this band doesn't want to write the soundtrack to their own lives. They want to provide a soundtrack to yours. The avant-garde, no doubt, bristles at this approach, but that's why they're the avant-garde. Pop music is supposed to be popular. In a relatively thoughtless and fractured pop cultural age, when so many people are rewarded for just showing up, from rock bands to presidents, it's gratifying when one actually shows up with something damn good.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: The music is from Coldplay. Our critic, Mikel Jollett, is the managing editor of Filter Magazine.

(Soundbite of song)

COLDPLAY: (Singing) My song is love. It's love unknown. And I've got to get that message home.

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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