Coldplay’s third album was made during the toughest time of the band’s career. 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head had made them one of the world’s biggest groups, but now things began to unravel. Lead singer Chris Martin, newly married to actress and Hollywood A-Lister Gwyneth Paltrow, grappled with a level of fame that would have been unthinkable just a few years before; the band were uncertain about which musical direction to take next; relationships within the band had become strained; and they were under pressure from their label to get a record finished sooner rather than later. It didn’t help that they were a man down—the band’s non-playing “fifth member” and manager, Phil Harvey, a crucial part of their creative process, had departed after the completion of A Rush of Blood. It all helped to make X&Y’s writing and recording a testing period for the quartet, but somehow they emerged with a record that both refined what went before and put a resolve in Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman, and drummer Will Champion to stay together. Working in a sporadic fashion over 18 months, a spell spread across six studios in the US and the UK, the group wrote over 60 songs—but often found themselves coming to a creative dead end. Crucially, they had one killer song and around it a record began to take shape. “Fix You,” written for Paltrow after the death of her father, was one of Coldplay’s most affecting and bombastic sing-alongs yet, growing from an organ-led hymnal into a bells-and-whistles midtempo anthem. It would carry X&Y on its back. At the same time, realizing that they needed to be working more as a band rather than individually on their parts in the studio, new sonic routes started to emerge. Opener “Square One,” with its wiry guitars and rhythmic urgency, was an explosive banger that sounded like U2 reimagining Interpol; “What If” paired sumptuous strings with a sinuous bass groove and layered guitars; and “Low” draped a propulsive indie rock tune in glacial synths and atmospheric soundscapes—the addition of electronic textures across the record evidence of a band keen to try new things. Speaking about X&Y in 2015, Martin quipped, “I’d like to take 10 minutes off it and tidy up the haircuts.” It was a period that put a full stop on the first phase of Coldplay. They would be a different band on their next album, even more ambitious and daring. X&Y went on to sell over 13 million copies, another massively successful hit for the biggest British group of the 21st century. But what it taught them was even more valuable. From here, everything changed.

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