Coldplay: Why they suck (a reblog).

I’ll preface this post by mentioning that this is a (partial) reblog from accidental-historian.typepad.com.I’ll also admit that back in 2001/2002/2003 I enjoyed Coldplay’s music. Parachutes was great, and I was excited to see where the band was headed. Unfortunately it’s clear to me, 9 years later, that this band was headed straight to the toilet, and has revealed Gwenneth Paltrow to be the Yoko Ono of Britpop (except for the fact that Coldplay never had even 2% of The Beatles’ talent, and Gwenneth clearly isn’t Asian).

Anyway, here is why Coldplay sucks:

“Since there’s not much worth talking about in terms of the music of 2010, I’ve decided instead to try to figure out why Coldplay sucks so very, very much.  This may seem like an odd thing to do, but Pandora has decided that I must like Coldplay, since I also have been known to indicate an appreciation for such bands as Oasis, U2, the Saw Doctors, The Waterboys, Idlewild, and The Verve.  So it says, “Hey, you like all this, you must like Coldplay, right?”

Fuck, no.  I mean, really.  No.  Not at all.

It’s all the more mysterious when you consider that I once liked Coldplay.  I own ParachutesA Rush of Blood to the Head, and the 2003 live disc.[5]  They somehow managed to make it on to my mp3 player.  Which was actually kind of nice, since it made trying to answer the question, “What was there to like about Coldplay back in the day?” that much easier.  Specifically because I didn’t have to, y’know, find the albums.

Anyway, Pandora threw a song from the one album with the wannabe French Revolution artwork at me the other day.  I think it’s called Viva la Vida.  Also, I’m pretty sure the song was the title track, as I vaguely recognized it from somewhere.  While it was plodding along for a while and I was thinking, “Seriously?  What is this crap?” it suddenly occurred to me what the deal with Coldplay is.

See, they’re most often compared to U2 and Oasis due to, well, national and temporal proximity.  Since U2 was, shall we say, past their prime by the time Coldplay showed up and Oasis was busy imploding in the post-Standing on the Shoulders of Giants world, everyone was like, “Yay!  New Britpop!” and yea, verily, Coldplay was crowned king without anyone noticing that they, well, pretty much sucked.

The problem is simple.  Coldplay is U2 without the anthemic, stadium-filling feeling of, well, U2.  Coldplay is Oasis without the hooks and the swagger.  Basically, Coldplay is an amalgamation of all of the things that made U2 and Oasis good without any of the things that made either bad great.  Yet they still have the desire to do the things that Oasis and U2 do.  Coldplay has pretension of world-changing rock without having anything to say.  They attempt to write big, epic, hubris-fueled songs without understanding what makes an epic song awesome.  So, instead, the music of Coldplay is just a joyless – if technically proficient – slog through songs that just kind of listlessly plod along for a while and then eventually, mercifully, end.  The end result is rather painful.

There’s more to an epic song than making it long, tossing in a lot of instruments, and filling it with pseudo-intellectual lyrics.  An epic song requires three things: presence, timelessness, and emotional force.  If done right, an epic song doesn’t need to be complicated at all.  It just needs to grab your attention, hold it, and then remind you of that moment every time you hear it.[6]

It’s blatantly obvious, at least to me, that Coldplay attempted to make A Rush of Blood to the Head an album of epic songs.  The fact is, that they very nearly achieved it with “The Scientist” and “Amsterdam.”  Everything is there with both of those songs.  But both songs fall short for the same exact reason that every Coldplay song falls short: they’re too long, they’re too boring, and they’re ultimately flat and lifeless.

Now, this is an admittedly subjective yardstick, but I need a point of comparison.  Since we’re talking Oasis and U2 the natural reaction is to say, “Well if Coldplay does this, what do we compare it to with Oasis and U2?”  For this I must pull out two decidedly unfair comparisons: Be Here Now and The Joshua Tree.  I actually originally wanted to use Achtung, Baby, but The Joshua Tree is a much better album for comparison purposes due mostly to mood.  On the Oasis end I could actually probably use (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? or The Masterplan, but Be Here Now is also the closest comparison.

The Joshua Tree is an album of epic songs.  This is not at all marred by the fact that I inexplicably despise “Where the Streets Have No Name.”  I just start on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for” and go from there.  The fascinating thing about The Joshua Tree, at least to me, is that the most amazing song in an album that includes “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for,” “With or Without You,” “Bullet the Blue Sky,” and “One Tree Hill” is the quietest and the simplest.  It’s a song that I actually tend to forget about if I haven’t listened to the album in a while.  But every time “Running to Stand Still” comes on I think about pretty much nothing else for four and a half minutes.  The song builds a space and it holds you there.

I can’t help but compare Coldplay’s “Amsterdam” to “Running to Stand Still.”  Both spend most of their run quiet and simple.  Both build up for a bit and taper off without ever getting particularly grandiose.  “Running to Stand Still” never gets around to insisting upon itself quite like “Amsterdam” does, though.  It never gets as loud, never gets as complicated.  It also never makes me want to go listen to a different song.  “Amsterdam” is a five and a half minute song that feels like it goes on for about ten.  “Running to Stand Still” is a quiet four and a half minute song that feels like something much longer and much bigger.  This, as much as the standard definition, is what I mean by “timelessness.”

This is a key aspect of the epic song.  It can be short or long, it doesn’t matter.  The song exists in a place where time does not matter.  When it’s over it comes as a surprise either that ten minutes have passed so quickly or that only four minutes went by.

On that note, then, we have the collection of super-sized songs known as Be Here Now.  The song that jumps out on that album, though, is “Fade In-Out.”  It comes in at just under seven minutes, but doesn’t feel like a seven minute song.  What it actually feels like is several smaller songs built on the same sonic theme and then kinda pasted on top of each other and attached to a seven minute guitar line.  It’s big, it’s complicated, it draws attention to itself, and it does so beautifully.  They did the same basic thing with “Champagne Supernova” and it worked just as well.

Coldplay basically attempted that with “The Scientist,” which is also a song that makes me ask the question, “What the fuck does this have to do with science?”  Nothing.  The answer is nothing.  But “The Scientist” never really goes anywhere, either.  And while it’s two minutes shorter than “Fade In-Out,” it’s an interminable five minutes.

I’m tempted to blame all of this on the band’s over-reliance on the piano.  The piano is not an epic instrument.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the piano.  It’s just not the instrument you build a rock band around.  Consider the two big pop stars who played piano from the last decade: Norah Jones and Vanessa Carlton.  Think about it.  No, YOU think about it.

Then “A Rush of Blood to the Head” comes on.  It’s basically “The Scientist,” but with the piano pushed to the background and an additional forty seconds.  I was just listening to it for my own edification and at about the four minute mark I thought, “Wait, am I still listening to this?”  That, right there, is the exact opposite of epic.  That’s epic fail right there.  As such, the problems with Coldplay are systemic in the band itself.

What it all comes down to is a moment that was recorded in the 2003 live album.  At the start of “Yellow,” which was Coldplay’s big, breakthrough song, Chris Martin tells the crowd, “There’s no reason to be sitting down during this song.”  He then tells them, “We’ll buy you all an ice cream if you stand up.”  This is supposedly the biggest band in Britain since U2 and Oasis and the lead singer is telling the crowd that he’ll buy them ice cream if they stand up during the big hit from the debut album.

Think about that.  In 2000 Coldplay released Parachutes.  In 2002 they released A Rush of Blood to the Head.  In 2003 Chris Martin offered a crowd ice cream to stand up during a show.  In 1994 Oasis released Definitely Maybe.  In 1995 they released (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?  In 1996 they said they were bigger than the Beatles (and, incidentally, Morning Glory did outsell Sgt. Peppers, so in terms of single-album sales, they were).  And let’s not forget that Bono had been wandering the world and meeting with governmental and religious leaders to try to end Third World debt for a good four years by the time Chris Martin discovered he couldn’t even get people to stand up at a Coldplay show.

So why does Coldplay suck?  That question is actually surprisingly easy to answer.  They have boring songs, a less-than-charismatic front man, and they just, in general, lack presence.  But plenty of bands are like that.  So perhaps that’s the wrong question to ask.

The real question is, “Why does it matter that Coldplay sucks?”  The answer is, “It shouldn’t.”  But it does because the music industry was desperate to find a new band to plug in to a gap that U2 and Oasis weren’t exactly filling any more.  But U2 and Oasis possessed those intangibles that create greatness.  Coldplay never did and never will.  Simply anointing them the next big thing on the British music scene was never going to change that, either.

Such are the vagaries of life, I suppose.  It certainly worked out in the end for Coldplay.  I mean, Chris Martin married Gwyneth Paltrow, is buddies with Simon Pegg, and has a daughter named after a fruit, after all.  Also, he probably spends his nights sleeping next to Gwyneth Paltrow on a giant pile of money.

See, it doesn’t matter that Coldplay sucks,” because they are awesome “in the one place that the music industry cares about most: The wallet.”

Thanks for stopping by,

The Buddha Rats

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