In from the cold

Tony Clay­ton-lea charts the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of Cold­play

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

So here’s the ques­tion – how does a band that started out in 1999 as the bee’s knees end up as whip­ping boys for ev­ery brand of snide and sneer you can think of? How did a band that were a firm favourite of No Disco (Ir­ish in­die tele­vi­sion show, pre­sented by the likes of Donal Di­neen, Ua­neen Fitzsi­mons and Leagues O’Toole, broad­cast from 1993-2003) man­age to be smeared with ef­flu­ent less than five years later?

Four­teen years ago, with the re­lease of their de­but al­bum, Para­chutes, the huge suc­cess of the sin­gle Yel­low, and the book­ies’ favourite to win that year’s Mer­cury Mu­sic Prize, Cold­play sud­denly be­came the New Ra­dio­head (only more melodic and much more friendly) and the New Jeff Buck­ley (only alive, and with hit songs).

With the ex­cep­tion of Cre­ation Records founder Alan McGee (and his fa­mously ap­pointed “mu­sic for bed­wet­ters” quote), it seemed there was hardly any­one that didn’t like Cold­play’s mu­sic, which was un­der­scored with emo­tive el­e­gance and adroitly ap­plied an­guish that un­furled at, mostly, a leisurely pace.

Yet slowly but surely, the band mor­phed into a metaphor for medi­ocrity. They flipped back­wards on the scale from cool to lame. How did that hap­pen?

We’re not here to shower ei­ther praise or brick­bats. We are an ob­jec­tive, dis­cern­ing Cold­play fan.

We think some of their early ma­te­rial is classy; we ad­mire the likes of Yel­low, Shiver and Trou­ble (all from that highly in­flu­en­tial de­but al­bum, the mu­sic of which has seeped into many young bands, in­clud­ing our own Ko­da­line); and with­out a shred of em­bar­rass­ment, we’ll ad­mit that the first time we heard Fix You, our eyes welled up.

So no, let there be no shame or coy re­treat be­hind the re­dun­dancy of the phrase “guilty plea­sure”.

Let’s not for­get the live ex­pe­ri­ence, ei­ther. With some bands, if you don’t get the al­bums, then the con­certs might just bring you into the fold, and there’s an ar­gu­ment to be put for­ward that from the mid-2000s on­wards (fol­low­ing on from the re­lease of the al­bums A Rush of Blood to the Head and X&Y) Cold­play could cer­tainly put on a good show.

A DE­SIRE TO THRILL

Yes, the gigs may have filled in cracks that the mu­sic couldn’t ever hope to, but at the heart of them seemed to be a band that wanted to be great, that had a de­sire to thrill, to be in­clu­sive.

And, per­haps more truth­fully than we’d like to ad­mit, Cold­play songs rarely sound bet­ter than when they’re be­ing sung by thou­sands. Some­times it’s dif­fi­cult not to be sucked into such a pow­er­ful grav­i­ta­tional pull.

That said, there’s lit­tle doubt that from 2005’s X&Y (the band’s weak­est al­bum to date), some kind of emol­lient residue was work­ing its way into the fab­ric of the band’s ma­te­rial.

Never mind that they had prin­ci­ples – for a band per­ceived to hug the main­stream to death, in 2004 Cold­play re­jected a multi-mil­lion euro of­fer from both Diet Coke and Gap for their re­spec­tive pro­mo­tional cam­paigns.

Never mind that the “cool” quo­tient was ab­sent from the band frame­work (not that they ap­peared to care, any­way – they have rocked the prima donna look with no­tice­able lack of suc­cess).

Rather, let’s fo­cus briefly on the way cer­tain sec­tions of the me­dia (and by nat­u­ral soak­age, the pub­lic) per­ceived and por­trayed the no­tion of Chris Martin’s mar­riage to Amer­i­can ac­tor Gwyneth Pal­trow.

MAC­RO­BI­OTIC-MUNCH­ING BORE

To cer­tain me­dia (and again, by a per­plex­ing, frac­tured os­mo­sis, to the pub­lic whot read it and be­lieved it), Chris Martin not only sang soppy piano bal­lads about grief, de­spair and an­guish, but also – be­cause of the in­flu­ence of his wife – turned into a smug, right-on, mac­ro­bi­otic-munch­ing bore. Nam­ing their chil­dren Ap­ple and Moses only poured the sound of snig­ger­ing on to an al­ready large mound of cyn­i­cism sur­round­ing the band. Who could win against such a wealth of neg­a­tiv­ity?

Fast-for­ward to more re­cent times and say a loud WTF to the unasked-for bar­rage of on­line sar­casm (in­formed largely by the non­sense to be read in mag­a­zines and un­der-the-line com­men­taries) about the pair’s sep­a­ra­tion.

What started out as be­ing just about the mu­sic, which you liked or didn’t, taste depend­ing, turned into some­thing of a queasy soap opera cour­tesy of tabloids, glossy mags and low-rent blogs – all of which used “con­cern” as a mask for “fair com­ment”.

For all we know (and we’ve never met the chap), Chris Martin could be all or some of the fol­low­ing: in­tel­li­gent, moody, pas­sion­ate, ar­tis­ti­cally and au­tis­ti­cally fo­cused, amus­ing, hum­ble, ego­tis­tic, un­fash­ion­ably moral­is­tic. If you want to be­lieve that he isn’t, then that’s up to you.

Se­ri­ously, though – if you can spend so much of your time yak-yak-yakking about why Cold­play are shit and why Chris Martin (whom you’ve never met, re­mem­ber) grad­u­ally went from Yel­low to beige, then, truly, your life must be bliss­ful and amaz­ing.

Lucky you.

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