The rehabilitation of Coldplay

On the eve of the release of new album Ghost Stories, Tony Clayton-Lea charts a course of redemption for Coldplay from hip Yellow to bland beige and back again

Fri, May 9, 2014, 00:00

So here’s the question – how does a band that started out in 1999 as the bee’s knees end up as whipping boys for every brand of snide and sneer you can think of?

How did a band that were a firm favourite of No Disco (Irish indie television show, presented by the likes of Donal Dineen, Uaneen Fitzsimons and Leagues O’Toole, broadcast from 1993-2003) manage to be smeared with effluent less than five years later?

Fourteen years ago, with the release of their debut album, Parachutes, the huge success of the single Yellow, and the bookies’ favourite to win that year’s Mercury Music Prize, Coldplay suddenly became the New Radiohead (only more melodic and much more friendly) and the New Jeff Buckley (only alive, and with hit songs).

With the exception of Creation Records founder Alan McGee (and his famously appointed “music for bedwetters” quote), it seemed there was hardly anyone that didn’t like Coldplay’s music, which was underscored with emotive elegance and adroitly applied anguish that unfurled at, mostly, a leisurely pace.

Yet slowly but surely, the band morphed into a metaphor for mediocrity. They flipped backwards on the scale from cool to lame. How did that happen?

We’re not here to shower either praise or brickbats. We are an objective, discerning Coldplay fan.

We think some of their early material is classy; we admire the likes of Yellow, Shiver and Trouble (all from that highly influential debut album, the music of which has seeped into many young bands, including our own Kodaline); and without a shred of embarrassment, we’ll admit that the first time we heard Fix You, our eyes welled up.

So no, let there be no shame or coy retreat behind the redundancy of the phrase “guilty pleasure”.

Let’s not forget the live experience, either. With some bands, if you don’t get the albums, then the concerts might just bring you into the fold, and there’s an argument to be put forward that from the mid-2000s onwards (following on from the release of the albums A Rush of Blood to the Head and X&Y) Coldplay could certainly put on a good show.

Yes, the gigs may have filled in cracks that the music couldn’t ever hope to, but at the heart of them seemed to be a band that wanted to be great, that had a desire to thrill, to be inclusive.

And, perhaps more truthfully than we’d like to admit, Coldplay songs rarely sound better than when they’re being sung by thousands. Sometimes it’s difficult not to be sucked into such a powerful gravitational pull.

That said, there’s little doubt that from 2005’s X&Y (the band’s weakest album to date), some kind of emollient residue was working its way into the fabric of the band’s material.

Never mind that they had principles – for a band perceived to hug the mainstream to death, in 2004 Coldplay rejected a multi-million euro offer from both Diet Coke and Gap for their respective promotional campaigns.

Never mind that the “cool” quotient was absent from the band framework (not that they appeared to care, anyway – they have rocked the prima donna look with noticeable lack of success).

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