Viva la Coldplay

Coldplay, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (Capitol, 2008)

There is little else that strikes a harder blow to my insufferable music snob credibility than admitting I like Coldplay. It’s true, I’m a Coldplay apologist. Despite being one of the most successful pop-rock bands in the world, they’re also among the most hated, especially by young, male, painfully hip music fans. It’s not just them, though, even The New York Times referred to the group in an album review as “the most insufferable band of the decade,” an insult that is both unfair and patently false when you take into consideration Nickelback and Matchbox Twenty.

Admitting you like Coldplay is sort of like admitting you like Disney World, in that you have to prepare yourself for the occasional smirks of derision. It’s just not cool. Well, I like Disney World too, and I can’t figure out why so many people vehemently dislike Coldplay. Is it Chris Martin’s moist-eyed earnestness? The fact that they’re clearly trying to model their career on U2, another wildly successful band people love to hate? Is it the fact that their best and so far most successful album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, is essentially one long apology to an ex-girlfriend of Martin’s, and that the followup, X&Y, is essentially a love letter to his wife? Is it because in interviews they constantly brag about how anti-being rock stars they are? Is it Martin’s occasionally piercing falsetto? Granted, I don’t really give the “why do so many people hate Coldplay” question nearly as much thought as it would appear here, I’ve chalked it up mostly to the notion that people simply just enjoy pissing on stuff that a lot of other people like (i.e. the Star Wars backlash), and that Coldplay, honestly, they just don’t rock.

Except they kind of do, maybe not often, but they are capable of it. Listen to their cover of the Bond theme ‘You Only Live Twice,’ performed early in their career. In fact, here’s an early Christmas present for you:

Now listen to that trippy guitar and tell me they don’t rock at least just a tiny little bit. You know what, though? I’m not going to use this post to try to sell haters on Coldplay, or to excuse why I like them. A Rush of Blood to the Head got me through one of the worst years of my life, even if at times listening to it made me feel like I was being hit over the head with a large stick. There’s just a deeply touching simplicity to a song like ‘Warning Sign,’ with the chorus ‘When the truth is, I miss you,’ and maybe that’s both their genius and their fatal flaw. No one’s going to credit Chris Martin as being the most profound lyricist in the world, and yet most of his songs work in spite of that. They shouldn’t, but they do, somehow.

You can tell that Coldplay is intending for their fourth and newest album, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, to be their “important” album, their Joshua Tree, their OK Computer. You don’t get Brian Eno as your producer if you’re just gonna fuck around. It’s an ambitious effort, with lyrics on love, religion, war and death set to a world music flair. Does it work? Well…mostly. I have to respectfully disagree with those who are dismissing the album outright as sounding “like every other Coldplay album.” While the first single, ‘Viva La Vida,’ doesn’t break any new creative ground, most of the other tracks do show the band to be stretching themselves, more often to successful results than not. If you dislike Coldplay for being “too commercial,” you should probably note that few of the songs have a radio-friendly sound, I suspect this was quite intentional, and good for them. They try a little bit of everything, Middle Eastern instruments, some Spanish undertones, Martin even drops his normal singing voice a couple octaves in ‘Yes.’ They put a hell of an effort into trying to come up with a new and interesting sound, when they could have sold the same amount of albums doing rehash after rehash of A Rush of Blood to the Head, and it shows.

However…I’m on my third listen of the album, and I’ve yet to decide on which track really stands out. Everything blends together seamlessly, but at the same time it makes it difficult to recall one song from the next. If someone was to stand at the edge of a cliff and threaten to throw a puppy off of it if I didn’t choose, I guess it would come down to the dark, sweeping ‘Cemeteries of London’ and the sweet, upbeat ‘Strawberry Swing,’ which has an odd but appealing Japanese folk sound to it, if such a thing as Japanese folk music exists. It’s a solid, consistent album, but as much as I commend them for not making A Rush of Blood to the Head II: Rush Harder, I’m not quite sure it has the repeated listening value its predecessor has. Perhaps it will grow on me as time passes. I hope so, because we Coldplay apologists have to stick together and keep fighting the good fight.  Not that Chris Martin is probably worrying about how many anti-fans he has, but to prove that uncool doesn’t always mean untalented.


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