The xx – 'Coexist'
By Jonny Ensall
The xx’s last album might have become a dinner party favourite, but that doesn’t mean the band are dull, only that their music has quiet but universal appeal. The trio’s self-titled debut has become ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ for young Londoners – the record that everybody owns, and that gets played at that certain late point in the evening when friends become their most reflective.
It shows that loneliness and isolation are still acknowledged as the basic stuff of great British music, but now with added gritty beats and whispery R&B vocals that remind one of long nights spent nodding idly in the corner of dark clubs. The band are, in other words, Joy Division for the post-ecstasy generation.
It’s a fantastic formula, and one that’s tinkered with only subtly on ‘Coexist’. This album has a loose narrative. It begins with a strikingly honest love song, ‘Angels’, on which Romy Madley-Croft repeats the line, ‘Being as in love with you as I am’, over a sprinkling of bass drum kicks and a few reverb-soaked guitar chords.
On ‘Chained’ she’s singing, ‘We used to be closer than this. Is it something you miss?’ By ‘Tides’, it’s ‘You leave with the tide. And I can’t stop you leaving.’ The story of the on-off relationship has been told a thousand times before, often in more original ways. But The xx have never been as concerned with polishing their metaphors as they are with getting across the almost unbearable melancholy of love and life, whatever clichés it assumes. After all, the things that sound eerily familiar are often the most affecting.
Jamie Smith’s production is hugely impressive, and it’s his muffled house beat that makes ‘Reunion’ the album highlight. His contribution is just one eye-opening facet of a painfully sparse but also startlingly good album, one that almost disintegrates under the weight of its own sadness.
You can try to play ‘Coexist’ at your dinner party, but your guests might go home crying.