Revised: May 18, 2014 by JB
What is the near-obsession this musical generation has with either loving or (mostly) hating Coldplay? It’s not because Coldplay sucks, because honestly, they don’t. It’s not because their albums are some of the worst of all time, because they aren’t (let’s be serious – do they really stack up against some of the worst albums of all time from other uber-popular pop groups? No way).
And it’s not because they’re assholes, because very clearly they are not. So why are they the most polarizing band of the last decade?
Getting old sucks
In 2000 Coldplay became THE band of the new millennium and finally, more than a decade later, their light is (slowly) beginning to fade. The Coldplay marketing engine now hype their new releases more than even the fans do. That’s an inevitable twist of fate that didn’t exist in, say 2005 when Coldplay could release an album of bedroom snores and have it go quad-platinum. They’ve outgrown both their commercial and new fan peak. As with most bands that merge into their late 30’s (Chris Martin is now 37) they lose that connectivity with the younger demographic range that drives pop culture through the universe. 37 year-old men and women do not drive pop culture – they mostly observe it. It’s the younger generation that feeds it and we either jump on board with them or we simply shake our heads in disbelief.
Artistically great? – almost, but not quite
Coldplay is the Lebron James or Alex Rodriguez of pop music. They want everyone to like them which makes 88% of the public hate them and they suffer from it. But their problems begin artistically. They have never released the epic album that sets them apart. There is no Dark Side of the Moon in their catalog. There is no Achtung Baby, no Nevermind, no Sgt. Pepper, no OK Computer, no Sign O The Times, no Definitely Maybe – hell they can’t match the best 4 albums of R.E.M.’s catalog from the 1980’s/early 1990’s. Pick your favorite (or what you consider the best) Coldplay album (let’s go with A Rush of Blood To The Head) for argument’s sake. Does that album really match up to anything listed above? Now we all look back at things more fondly as we get older and reflect. I’m sure 18 years from now when A Rush of Blood is reissued full of outtakes it will receive that 5-star rating by the mags that place it on a higher pedestal than they did originally. But while A Rush of Blood sold millions it did not breakthrough any new barriers – none of the Coldplay releases have. A Rush of Blood did not create a new music renaissance like Nevermind did, or even The White Stripes. It did not take Coldplay in a bold new direction like Achtung did for U2 and OK Computer did for Radiohead. A Rush of Blood is a charming, melodic, truly outstanding pop record. And that’s all it is. We enjoy it. But it doesn’t move mountains or break through walls. You simply don’t see Thom Yorke bringing Rihanna into the Radiohead studio, and there’s a good reason why – because Yorke doesn’t need to. I sense Chris Martin feels he has to, and that’s where things begin to go askew.
The one-man show blues
What I give Coldplay the most credit for is a self-acknowledgment of their place in pop history. They admit they like to record sing-a-long tunes. Martin has admitted he’ll never be known for his lyrics, just his melodies. They freely admit they aren’t as good as Radiohead. Amen, and thank you. By admitting that they’ve tried to diffuse the tribe of haters at their front door who believe that most of the general record-buying public equates record sales with a reflection of the quality of their art. Where Coldplay goes wrong is with their predictability. They release an album every 3 years. Each album has an entirely different set of colors on the cover to make you think something new has arrived but it hasn’t. And it won’t. They simply aren’t talented enough collectively. Chris Martin is simply not quite in the same league as Bono, or Thom Yorke, or Cobain and most importantly there is no one else within Coldplay to provide that dynamic (often conflicting) musical tug-of-war that so many groups benefit from. Some of the greatest Beatles songs were recorded when McCartney and Lennon hated each other – but who cares they hated each other. Because of that hair-pulling relationship the Beatles made great music together that was superior than what their solo careers produced. I sense that Chris Martin sorely lacks that in Coldplay. One-man shows rarely succeed at the highest level unless your name is Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix or Jack White. Martin needs someone in the band to step up and tell him to quit sounding like his best friend just died on every 3rd song. He needs someone to step up and write great songs that sound nothing like his own.
Somebody send a dozen cookies please
Chris Martin writes excellent pop songs. I buy their new releases eagerly. However I listen more out of curiosity at their attempts to change direction artistically than I do in a belief that they’ve finally released their White Album. I can absorb the disproportionate amount of popularity they’ve received. I can absorb the innocuous presence of their music which by now everyone knows has been famously labeled by New York Times critic Jon Pareles as “the most insufferable band of the decade”. And Mr. Pareles is right. You listen to the big chunk of Coldplay’s catalog and you feel compelled to bake a dozen cookies and walk them over to their front door in hopes it will make them feel better. Insufferability and innocuous tunes do not motivate a generation of music followers to greater heights – they just sell records and fill arenas. In the long run Coldplay will be looked upon as slightly underrated by critics. Coldplay’s legion of fans placed them on a pedestal that the quality of their music couldn’t quite live up to. Instead of being indie pop icons like they could have been, they were able to cash in and inadvertently become a musical dartboard for millions during the last 12 years. Sad, but true.
P.S. And yes, I’ll be anxiously buying their next album – in about 3 years I assume