Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Coldplay: Gonna Say Somethin'

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.

2 comments:

Teecycle Tim said...

Death Cab's new 8-minute single. The Killers' bombastic last album. St. Pepper's. Pet Sounds. etc etc. I think any band that gets really huge but still retains the "important" label feels the need to attempt an epic album. I'm not sure why. Then they follow it up with something with the label "stripped down."

Chucklyn said...

I wouldn't claim to be well-versed in music, but it seems to me that just as a person may reevaluate their perspective on life and the world as they grow older, so also do many bands who are fortunate enough to make a career of the pop spotlight.

I'm sure part of it is the whole "I want my life to be worth something" mentality that seems to arise later in life. But I'm also sure that another part of it simply has to do with the fact that very few bands EVER stay the same as they were "back when they were cool."

But do you really want them to?

I mean, don't you just get another Aerosmith if you don't grow and evolve as musicians? I think Steven Tyler's pact with Satan has kept them going all these years because everything after "Dream On" sounds the same to me.

Not that some of it wasn't good. And not that I would turn Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler away from my bedchamber. But I digress.

Basically, I guess the point I'm trying to make is that although most long-standing pop bands DO try their hand at the "Epic Album" (as Tim put it), I'm saying that I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, it's kind of a natural thing, no?

I know this is getting uber-long, but take Tim's "Sgt Pepper" example:

If the Beatles would have stayed all "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "Love Me Do" then we never would have had the defiant brilliance of Rubber Soul or Revolver (either of which could certainly be described as "statement" albums), much less the legendary and revolutionary Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the White Album.

I totally agree with your observation that Coldplay's "trajectory seems baffling." But I think I'm other-minded about my reaction to that.

I think we also agree on the point that they're vying for the posterity playlist rather early in a relatively short career. By the same token however, it would be awfully presumptuous of me to say that "every band has to grow up sometime," because I don't believe that to be true.

But of those who wish to blend the staying-power of their pop legend brethren with the timeless socio-political relevance of works like Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" or - hey! - even U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," growth and evolution are definitely in order.

After all, when it comes to Death and All His Friends, Everything's Not Lost if All You Need is Love.