Coldplay: Follow-up Thoughts

June 16, 2008

Really good comments from my pals Chuck and Tim, and also in a few drunken bar conversations this week. A few more points, and clarifications on my Coldplay rant below:

Bombastic, challenging albums will always exist, thank God. I have nothing against broad experimentalism (even when it is unsuccessful), and quite frankly would hope every artist continually pushes themselves to create, and challenge their own fans in the process.

Songs like Deathcab For Cutie’s new “I Will Possess Your Heart,” the soaring Sam’s Town, even Green Day’s concept-y American Idiot are all good examples of this … and all good albums. I’d also throw out there Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Half the Radiohead catalog, and as you guys mentioned: Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper, irrefutably yes; incredible albums that redefined pop music. Also, the failures … Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, Bob Dylan’s Street Legal, these are bold movements, sometimes embraced, sometimes disregarded.

A lot of those albums and songs we’ve listed above challenge the rules of rock music, be it in content or sonically, and prove you can create (and succeed?) outside “the formula”, and ultimately push what people consider popular music.

I think Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head is an incredible album, a completely unexpected jump, and rightly heralded as one of the best albums of 2000. Rush… could be added to those albums listed above — an LP that changed the way you think about a band and their capability to expess. For Coldplay, that album was sonically daring, revolutionary, even confrontational, but this success exists completely outside the realm of injecting yourself in socio-political conflicts.

I’m now referring directly to the “Violet Hill” video (released virally-only). It opens up with Department of Defense test colorbars, a rocket missle launch with Bush overdubbed with monkey sound effects. The rest of the video focuses on various political figures dancing, bomb/firework footage, and George Dubbs conducting a “war orchestra” while Tony Blair plays backup guitar.

Here’s the thing: This is very “safe” criticism. They’re taking potshots at Blair, who stepped down from being the British PM more than a year ago, and a lame-duck President who is already the most universally-loathed man to ever hold the position. This is easy, safe, empty criticism.

Mind you, criticizing these two was not always okay to do, and had this focused outrage came out 2+ years ago, I would be a lot more impressed and receptive to the message. For instance the Dixie Chicks (of all bands) who saw massive radio station boycotts, their records burned, and received death threats after expressing their displeasure with the Texas-born Prez.

Or, when Conor Oberst sang “When The President Talks to God,” live on The Tonight Show, asking the middle American crowd if they think George Bush “ever smells his own bullshit,” live on national television; three years ago. At that point, as I mentioned before, Chris Martin was more concerned about making trade fair.

Coldplay alt video for “Violet Hill” 5/20/08:

Bright Eyes, Live on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno ~5/04/05:

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Coldplay: Gonna Say Somethin’

June 5, 2008

First things first, I must admit I really like Coldplay. Dammit. It’s true. Perhaps this is why I’m about to be hard on them.

Remember when Coldplay was the sleepy London band that gladly accepted the “music for bedwetters” tag, and wrote obtuse guitar-led ballads and strolled on the beach in slow-motion at dawn? I miss that band. From what I’ve heard of the new leaked album, that band is completely and totally gone.

Chris Martin and crew have, in four albums within a decade, attempted to cultivate the sort of grand sound and message that U2 worked nearly three times longer to cultivate, and even now U2’s preaching still seems like a fight for relevancy. I’m not saying setting your sights on being the next U2 is a bad idea–I can’t think of another band that’s stayed more-or-less “important” for as long as they have.

To me, Coldplay’s current trajectory seems baffling. With an upcoming double-named LP like Viva La Vida or Death and all His Friends, you know they’re aiming for a “statement” album, and god bless ‘em for giving it a go.

If the opening single, “Violet Hill”, is anything to judge by, the upcoming album is a soaring political and spiritual (and self-deifying) CD that forgoes anything you might have liked about 2000 A.D. Coldplay. For a band whose debut album, Parachutes, featured 10 tracks of which only three tracks had more than one-word titles and none of which veered away from troubled love-drunk troubadour territory, this is an suspect undertaking.

The thing that irks me the most is that I don’t know why Coldplay feels it’s their place to produce some sort of politically, socially, and spiritually conscious album. Have they discovered something since the disappointing X&Y that caused a revelation about modern times?

2000’s Parachutes rolled in with sweet guitar strum and nondescript lovelorness, and the impressive Rush of Blood to the Head followed in 2002. Hmm, maybe at that point, 2002, with 9/11 and London Subway Bombing memories still raw, it would’ve been a good time to say something about something. No dice. Coldplay upped the bombast, but the lyrics still wallowed in romantic vagaries and abstract forlornness. Though, now that I think about it, Martin seemed very concerned with Free Trade at that point. Hey, what happened to that?

So. Can stadium-filling bands make serious statements? Yes. They Can. Do stadium-filling bands really make a difference? I don’t think so. They can succeed in looking serious, but then your encore is “Yellow” and then it all goes to shit.

Now that I’ve lambasted a band whose music I may or may not have used for College-era seduction purposes, we’ll have to sit back and see. Maybe they’ll pull it off. Maybe Coldplay will have a seat at the G8 convention. Maybe people buying 80$ arena seats will absorb whatever message of universality and global consciousness Martin is communicating. That would be an incredible and wonderful thing, and I will gratefully write an adoring and redeeming retraction.

P.S. “Life in Technicolor” sounds fucking great.