Coldplay represent a conundrum for me.
Their music is obviously catchy and melodic, which is right up my street. They seem to be very adept at capturing lightning in a bottle when it comes to constructing songs with memorable melodies and that magic X-factor.
It’s been said that you know something is a hit if you hear your milkman whistling the tune. Set aside the fact that milkmen (and quite likely whistling, for that matter) are now anachronistic. I think there’s some truth in the idea that memorable tunes are deceptively hard to come by, otherwise everyone would be writing them. Twenty years of highly-publicized releases with scores of top-flight producers and I can’t hum a single Mariah Carey song to save my life. But I can recall one or more of the melodic hooks of a dozen Coldplay songs pretty much at will. Some things just resonate.
The conundrum is the baggage that comes with admitting that you enjoy Coldplay records. Firstly, the lyrics are quite often, how to put this politely, sucktacular. I get that Chris Martin is going for an Everyman vibe – nothing too specific, nothing too abstract, something everyone can relate to on some superficial level. Basically, ‘doing a Bono’. I get that they want to write anthemic music to inspire the masses and enjoy a certain level of acclaim & commercial success. No problem there. It’s important that artists continue to make music that inspires people, and I won’t fault them for being pragmatic enough to earn a living and put shoes on their children while they’re at it.
But I bet if Chris Martin was really being honest, he’d admit that he should have spent more than ten minutes coming up with the lyrics to the entire first Coldplay album. “Yellow” is just embarassing, and it’s not even the most egregious song on Parachutes.
Coldplay also tends to go back to the same well a little too often when it comes to vocal melodies. There’s only so much “whooo-ooo-ooo-hooo-yoo-ooo” stuff I’m willing to defend to my friends. General rule: if your lyrics look silly on the record’s jacket liner, you should probably try harder. Yes I know, the Beatles had a hit with “I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob”, but they were higher than kites at the time. And they still pulled off something as bizarrely evocative as “Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye” later in the same song.
The new single from the Coldplay album Mylo Xyloto is called “Paradise”, and it’s getting a lot of play on XM’s AltNation channel. I’ve even heard it a few times on terrestrial modern-rock radio. I would imagine that Top 40 is playing it too, but I can’t bear to listen long enough to find out.
Anyway, “Paradise” does have that fairy dust melody that is instantly recognizable. It’s going to go over gangbusters in concert. Ladies will swoon. Gentlemen will be excited by the suddenly-swooning ladies. It’s all good. But while I know that Coldplay fans will like “Paradise”, I also recognize that this isn’t going to change the minds of any of the Coldplay haters out there. Too many “whoo-ooo-ooos” and gimmicky choruses. I thought Brian Eno called them out during the making of Viva la Vida for being one-trick ponies, but I guess the lesson didn’t stick.
I think the synth programming in “Paradise” sounds great, and the changing sonic densities of the song are very appealing. I bought Mylo Xyloto on vinyl, and it sounds excellent. I even think that the expression “every tear a waterfall” is a cool idea for a hook line. In a perfect world, all the hook lines would have insightful things to say instead of random permutations of “whoa” and “whoo”.
But alas, ours is an imperfect world, not a paradise.