Coldplay, Snorah and Snow Patrol’s music to count sheep by
Hotel chain Travelodge recently commissioned a survey to find out what was the preferred choice of music to get us to sleep at night. You’d expect the winner to be some new age rubbish complete with the sound of waves and muted dolphins. You’d even think that a CD called Music Guaranteed to Get You to Sleep might figure in the list somewhere. Certainly it was never going to be Public Enemy, Megadeth or our old industrial-rock friends, Einsturzende Neubauten.
In fact, the favoured snoozeenhancers all turned out to be contemporary acts drawn from the rock/pop end of the music world. The top four sleep choices were Coldplay, James Blunt, Snow Patrol and Norah Jones. We can dispense with two of the above forthwith – I have a doctor’s note that says I can never be exposed to James Blunt’s music, so I don’t really know the sort of stuff he does. As for Norah Jones, well, it’s not for nothing she’s known as Snorah Jones.
Coldplay and Snow Patrol are interesting choices, primarily because they both loosely belong to that “nouveau glum” category still popular with record-buyers. Other bands here include Keane, Athlete and anyone who knows how to put a few minor chords together and is vaguely sad about something unspecific.
The key to this survey is not the music produced by Coldplay or Snow Patrol, but rather the lyrics. Both bands emerged at the fag end of Britpop, which was distinguished by a socio-realisitic approach to lyrics – even if this only ever seemed to amount to “we’re going down the pub”.
The nouveau glum movement dispensed with realism and replaced it with solemn and sensitive generalities that had a melancholic undertow (a sort of nihilism-lite). The music responded with plaintive piano-led melodies and the frequent introduction of a string section to indicate “sad emotions”.
Many trace nouveau glum back to Radiohead. It’s true that the band did patent a form of this type of music around the time of The Bends, but since then it’s all been global terror alert and freeform jazz polyrhythms around their way.
We’ve previously noted that you will always know when a Snow Patrol song is about to be played in a TV drama programme: it’s the bit when they cut to the person who’s on a life-support machine. And the lyrics do fit that general sense of all-purpose sadness. This from their song Run: “To think I might not see those eyes/ Makes it so hard not to cry/And as we say our long goodbye/I nearly do”. These guys make Spandau Ballet sound like Billy Bragg.
A brief analysis of the lyrics of nouveau glum bands shows how they all seem to cluster around the same lyrical themes. They are the same themes you’ll find in any amount of self-hypnosis tapes. Hence their sleep inducing quality.
A few years ago, noting the musical and lyrical similarities among these bands, a Liverpool songwriter called Mitch Benn wrote a song called Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Now, which includes the lines: “Everything sounds like Coldplay now/And if you do a high bit in the middle eight/Then you have almost solved the riddle of just how to sound like Coldplay now/This could be Embrace, Keane or Snow Patrol/ Thirteen Senses sound like this as well I’m told/It could be anyone, it’s so hard to say/Maybe this is actually Coldplay”.
Neatly returning to the hotel theme, Andy Partridge of XTC (a very good lyricist) once referred to the lyrics of nouveau glum bands as being “the musical equivalent of that corporate art you get in Holiday Inn foyers – a lot of orange stripes over a bit of turquoise”.
Snow Patrol: buck up, lads