After winning the UK’s Mercury Prize in 2010, the trio’s self-titled debut became a Dark Side of the Moon for a new generation – the record that everybody owns, and plays late at night at the end of a dinner party. It shows that loneliness and isolation are still the stuff of great music, but now with gritty beats and R&B vocals. It’s a fantastic formula, and one that’s tinkered with only subtly on Coexist.
The new 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 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 takes; the things that sound eerily familiar are often the most affecting. You can try to play Coexist at your dinner party, but your guests might go home crying.