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
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.
A DESIRE TO THRILL
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).
Rather, let’s focus briefly on the way certain sections of the media (and by natural soakage, the public) perceived and portrayed the notion of Chris Martin’s marriage to American actor Gwyneth Paltrow.
To certain media (and again, by a perplexing, fractured osmosis, to the public whot read it and believed it), Chris Martin not only sang soppy piano ballads about grief, despair and anguish, but also – because of the influence of his wife – turned into a smug, right-on, macrobiotic-munching bore. Naming their children Apple and Moses only poured the sound of sniggering on to an already large mound of cynicism surrounding the band. Who could win against such a wealth of negativity?
Fast-forward to more recent times and say a loud WTF to the unasked-for barrage of online sarcasm (informed largely by the nonsense to be read in magazines and under-the-line commentaries) about the pair’s separation.
What started out as being just about the music, which you liked or didn’t, taste depending, turned into something of a queasy soap opera courtesy of tabloids, glossy mags and low-rent blogs – all of which used “concern” as a mask for “fair comment”.
For all we know (and we’ve never met the chap), Chris Martin could be all or some of the following: intelligent, moody, passionate, artistically and autistically focused, amusing, humble, egotistic, unfashionably moralistic. If you want to believe that he isn’t, then that’s up to you.
Seriously, though – if you can spend so much of your time yak-yak-yakking about why Coldplay are shit and why Chris Martin (whom you’ve never met, remember) gradually went from Yellow to beige, then, truly, your life must be blissful and amazing.
THE TOP THREE PRETENDERS TO THE COLDPLAY CROWN
You don’t have to travel far to find the latest “new” Coldplay, as Swords band Kodaline come as close to the description as any. Like Coldplay, they have their fans adulatory) and their detractors (quite a few music critics, it seems), but there’s little denying the Irish act’s widescreen sound and emotive way with an epic, smartphone-in-the-air ballad. Their huge commercial success is based, so far, on one solitary album. Key song: High Hopes.
YOUNG THE GIANT
From Irvine, California, this indie rock act layer on the melodies, stack up the catchy hooks and rack up the hollow ballads like they’re going out of fashion. Regarded as the American version of Coldplay, their success is from just two albums, so there ain’t no legacy catalogue here yet - just sodden indie/pop songs such as My Body, Cough Syrup and Apartment (a song so happy it’s truly unbearable). Key song: Apartment.
OF MONSTERS AND MEN
This is disappointing – a band from Iceland that isn’t weird (I mean, seriously!). Rather, you get a wholesome indie sound underscored by the plain voice of Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir. The US loves them and so does Ireland – the band’s 2011 debut (and only) album, My Head is an Animal, made the number one spot. Again, huge success from just one album. When will this madness end? Key song: King and Lionheart