Above: "Yellow" isn't "Fake Plastic Trees" and Coldplay isn't Radiohead, but we'll be at Sprint Center tonight anyway.
I recently asked an acquaintance whether he was going to tonight’s Coldplay show. He gave me an over-my-dead-body look, as if I’d asked him whether he watches “Full House” reruns. I suppose Chris Martin is correct: His band isn’t cool, whatever that means anymore.
It may not be cool, but in my book Coldplay doesn’t really qualify as a guilty pleasure, either. Its music has enough merits to justify — instead of excuse or rationalize — my interest, which is somewhere closer to casual than devout.
I became a fan almost accidentally. I liked a song or two on the “Parachutes” album but hadn’t yet warmed up to “A Rush of Blood To The Head” when I caught its show at Memorial Hall in January 2003. That concert was a confluence of circumstances that left me ripe for persuasion: I was grieving over something, and Coldplay was at the point where it had outgrown venues as small as Memorial Hall.
That night the place was packed; the band rocked; the crowd (3,500) was euphoric; and several of the songs got under my skin and inside me, especially the deep-blue ballads like “The Scientist” and “Clocks.”
I’ve got a soft spot for Brit rock anyway, so after that evening, I climbed aboard the Coldplay train, fully aware that this band wasn’t as adventurous as the groups it can vaguely resemble, in a homogenized way: mainly Radiohead and U2 (although the distance between Coldplay and U2 has narrowed recently).
Since then, a backlash has ensued. Here’s what the Chicago Tribune said about Martin: “(his) falsetto fragility and good-guy mannerisms make him the rock equivalent of a warm glass of milk and bedtime cookies.”
And here’s how Pitchfork described Coldplay in its review of its latest album, “Viva La Vida”: “a grandma-friendly, Radiohead-normalizing, disarmingly polite rock band led by a man who sounds like he’s still yearning for puberty perhaps.”
True, I suppose. Chris Martin’s lyrics could use some help. He seems smarter than: “Tears stream down your face/When you lose something you cannot replace.” It might help if Martin could conjure more abstractions and artsy-fartsy-ness or more soul, but I’m not sure he has it in him. A writer for the Village Voice wrote: “Martin’s too sweet, too soothing. … He tries hard to imagine how it feels to feel like you’re dying, but he can’t evoke it.”
I’m guessing that’s where the deepest objections to his band start: with the words, which fail him more than occasionally. The Radiohead-lite thing doesn’t help either; nor, I’m sure, does his marriage to a Hollywood starlet who used to date Brad Pitt.
He has taken some strides to break out in a few directions: collaborating with Kanye West and Jay-Z; hiring Brian Eno to produce “La Vida,” which is a step up from “X&Y” and includes several tracks made for the arenas.
I’m not sure any of that will remedy what seems to ail Coldplay’s stock in the hipster markets. And it doesn’t matter. I’ve stopped keeping track of what I’m supposed to like, stopped trying to force myself to like what’s been ordained as fashionable, hip or “art.”
Obviously, some bands (Radiohead, Tool) are in this game for bigger and deeper and more substantive reasons than others. To them go the spoils: a vaunted, long-lasting reputation.
But I’m happy to admit I like songs or performers who don’t get respect from the underground, whether it’s the Killers, Pink or Coldplay. Sometimes it’s enough for a song or a band to be merely entertaining.