Coldplay: Today the girl next door. Tomorrow the world.
Toward the end of 2000, a low but strong murmur went
through the music community about an English band called Coldplay. The band to
whom they were most often compared was Travis, the Scottish minstrels that
scored a couple hits earlier in the year with their excellent album The Man
Who. The Coldplay fans, though, wrinkled their noses at the mere mention of
Travis as a measuring stick. “Coldplay is way better than Travis,” two separate
Coldplay fans told me, using the exact same condescending tone. First
impression: Coldplay fans were jerks. Sounds like an elitist cult following in
the making. Stay away from this band.
Then, in early 2001, the band broke big, thanks to a big dumb sing-a-long called
“Yellow” that contained the following bit of poetry: “I came along, I wrote a
song for you / And all the things you do / And it was called ‘Yellow.’” Second
impression: the Coldplay fans think this blows Travis away? Not only are
they snobs, but they’re snobs with bad taste.
The third impression, however, was much different, and much longer lasting.
Parachutes, the album that spawned “Yellow,” is far subtler than that blunt
instrument of a single. Leadoff track “Don’t Panic” sets the tone from the
get-go, with gliding guitars and Chris Martin’s now-famous falsetto jumping
tenor. “Shiver” and “Trouble” were the album’s calling cards, though. The former
track showed the band’s ability to shift tempos while coming up with some truly
memorable guitar riffs, while the latter showed that they knew their way around
a ballad. Martin’s ability to play both piano and guitar gave the band a much
fuller sound, and the band took advantage of his versatility.
Still, no one was prepared for what the Coldplay did next.
Rush of Blood to the Head, released in August of 2002, was light years
beyond its predecessor. It was the sound of a band letting it all hang out,
literally and figuratively. Shedding their image as Radiohead Lite (an
affliction Travis has had to deal with as well), Coldplay goes whole hog on
Rush of Blood, beginning with the opening track, “Politik.” A driving, minor
key and otherworldly ballad that launches into an altogether different,
emotionally crippling finale, “Politik” made it clear that Coldplay were playing
for keeps. But despite opening with the one-two ballad punch of “Politik” and
“In My Place,” the band hadn’t gone completely soft. The up-tempo numbers (to
call them rockers would be misleading) “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face,”
“Daylight” and “Green Eyes” are markedly different in approach, borrowing
influences from Roxy Music, Love & Rockets and Americana, respectively.
But “Clocks” is the song that sent them into the stratosphere. A gorgeous but
haunting piano atop a pile driver drum beat, this was their shot heard ‘round
the world, the song that was impossible to escape for a good 18 months. It gave
Coldplay the rather enviable position of being an extremely high profile band
with an extremely low profile.
Which is what made Chris Martin’s next move even more puzzling. He started
dating Gwyneth Paltrow, the Oscar winning actress and, at the time, one of the
biggest movie stars in the world. Perhaps it was Martin’s ability to be both
high exposure and low profile that appealed to her, since her last two
relationships imploded for the entire world to see. Before anyone knew it,
Martin and Paltrow were married, and had a baby girl, which they saddled with
the unfortunate name of Apple. People started smelling a Yoko, convinced that
Paltrow was going to ruin Coldplay. When stories surfaced that the band had
scrapped an entire album’s worth of tracks because they weren’t deemed fit, some
speculated that the band was having trouble getting it together. Still more talk
Quit hatin’, y’all. Sure,
X&Y is not as
electrifying as Rush of Blood, but few albums this decade have been. The
very fact that it can stand up to Rush of Blood on some level is cause
for celebration. While it has its share of ballads -- “What If,” though
lyrically pathetic, is lovely, and the title track is one of the band’s best --
“Low,” “Talk” and “White Shadows” show that Martin hasn’t gone all soft on us,
like many nay sayers predicted he would. The most pleasant surprise may be the
hidden track “Till Kingdom Come,” a cute, upbeat campfire song and love letter
to Yoko, er, Paltrow.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Coldplay’s rise to superstardom is that they
did it without a magnanimous lead singer, K Mart sponsorships or swearing on
national television. They’re average Joes with massive plans. All bands should
be so grounded and yet so gifted.
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