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 Colplay 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: