The third album is, historically, a watershed in a band's career. Think Springsteen's ''Born to Run" and Tom Petty's ''Damn the Torpedos." Coldplay's third album, ''X&Y," isn't one of those career-defining discs. Career-sustaining is a more apt description of this endlessly likable and occasionally lovable set of songs.
Coldplay will never be known as groundbreaking, nor does it aspire to the cutting edge, and that's part of the band's charm. It knows what it is -- a popular music group in the most literal sense and, even more notably, what it isn't -- a band that would never want to change for change's sake.
2002's blockbuster ''A Rush of Blood to the Head" was a more dramatic shift from the quartet's humble 2000 debut, ''Parachutes," than ''X&Y" is from its predecessor. But Coldplay's growth, while subtle, is significant. The band's signature melancholy has been bulked up to epic, arena-ready proportions with swirling keyboards and Herculean guitar riffs. Beats are a little beefier and grooves are little braver. Martin's songwriting is, as ever, filled with soaring melodies and hooks that manage to be tender and gargantuan all at once. But instead of reaching for new heights they seem oddly hell-bent on staying where they are.
The album starts off in outer space, with an atmospheric intro to swollen, squishy ''Square One" that quotes the theme to ''2001: A Space Odyssey." ''You're in control/Is there anywhere you want to go?" Martin sings, but his promise of a journey is never quite fulfilled. A fistful of swooning anthems, rich in texture and pummeling grace, follow: ''White Shadows," ''Talk," ''Twisted Logic," and the title track. The album's first single, ''Speed of Sound," is vintage Coldplay -- gorgeous, guitar-choked choruses and pensive, piano-laced verses with a yet more universal reach. If there were Billboard charts on the moon, this band would be topping them.
Coldplay's love songs have, in like form, grown positively majestic. ''Fix You" redefines the art of stately rock balladry. ''What If," a heart-on-sleeve catalog of end-of-love scenarios, is one of several tracks seemingly inspired by Martin's marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow. ''My song is love," he sings in ''A Message," and it doesn't get any more emotional than that until you get to the bonus track, a loose acoustic take on Johnny Cash's ''Till Kingdom Come." After the vast, varnished expanse that comes before, its simplicity is startling, and startlingly pleasant.