The XX’s last album might have become a dinner party favourite, but that doesn’t mean they’re dull. On the contrary, it just reaffirms that their gritty beats and dark, whispery R&B vocals have quiet but universal appeal. The trio’s self-titled debut has become The Dark Side of the Moon for youngsters across the globe – the album that everybody owns and gets played late in the evening when listeners are at their most reflective of states.
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 of 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 may take.
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 LP’s principle 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 be prepared – your guests might go home crying.