Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Missed the Good Part, Then I Realized

I'm here to add even more evidence to the heaping pile of reasons why I'm not a hipster. I'm not even hip. Stop reading if you're anyone whose image of me as cool will forever be tarnished by even more proof that I couldn't get into a club if I founded it. Who's ready for a hot plate o' nerd?

I like Coldplay.

Scratch that, I LOVE Coldplay. In honor of the band's newest single, "Violet Hill," which drops today and is available as a free download (taking yet another page from Radiohead's book?), I'm going to share my fixation with the band.

I think Chris Martin is hot, his high falsetto is mesmerizing, his piano parts breathtaking, and the band's soft-piano-rock is deep. Is it wimp-rock, like so many have said? Maybe. But is it substantial? Definitely. Coldplay is the future of pop music. The group is holding the pop-rock banner higher than anyone, and doing it with more talent, better songwriting, and more appeal than any of its peers. I also can't hate any band that is socially active and politically aware (I'll save that diatribe for a U2- or R.E.M.- related post, though).

Not only do I have two Coldplay posters in my room, I have seen the band live. I spent my sophomore year of high school drowning in the sorrow and exquisite pain of A Rush of Blood to the Head, the British quartet's second album. Who knew tragedy could be made more personal through Martin's honey-drenched voice?

It is simply too difficult to name my favorite Coldplay songs because the group's sound is so versatile. Instead of having a distinct sound and only working within that parameter (Dave Matthews, I'm looking at you), or experimenting with everything and not excelling at anything, Coldplay merges its signature stylings with creative musical leaps.

While Coldplay can do it all, the ballads are what make the band. There, the musical talent crosses with Martin's uncanny ability to marry emotion with pitch-perfect diction, and leaves fans' psyches leveled after a listen. Listening to Coldplay is like an enema for the soul.

Everyone who has seen Wedding Crashers knows about the whispering romance of "Sparks," which is one of the best non-overt love songs of this decade, but heartbreak, regret, and repentance are where the band hits its heights. No Coldplay song has been more therapeutic for this listener than "Warning Sign," which also serves as the score for a crucial plot point in a forgettable film called The Last Kiss. There's nothing better than Martin's high-pitched voice, like a canary's song. He pulls every ounce of sadness into this song and out of the listener, and while I don't know exactly what he's singing about, I know I've been there. From the first time I heard this song, I connected with it more deeply than any Coldplay song before or since. I never used to believe in regret, but "Warning Sign" showed me I was full of it. This is one song everyone should hear.

I love The O.C. but its use of "Fix You" during Caleb Nichol's death definitely diminishes the song in my book. "Swallowed In the Sea" is a much more suitable sad song. It is sad and alternately triumphant, celebratory and painful, and it's Coldplay's mastery of paradoxes that sets it apart from its artificially deep peers, putting it into a class with legends like U2 and yes, R.E.M. Coldplay is all about a different kind of love, an unconventional, darker yet more resonant love, which makes it all the more engaging, and this song is a great example of that idea.

There's nothing sadder than an accident, and Coldplay taps into this with "Trouble," a song which serves as the score for episodes of MTV's "True Life." This song will break your soul as you sympathize (or maybe even empathize) with Martin's plight. It's martyrdom at its most modest, complete with piano accompaniment.

As far as the rockier songs go, Coldplay peaked early with secret-love anthem "Shiver." The second track on the band's debut, Parachutes, the tune captures that Cady Heron-esque feeling of being in love with someone you just can't have, or just can't muster the words to tell. Many great songs have been written about long lost loves, forbidden love, and love from afar, but very few truly great songs encapsulate all three, exemplifying that feeling of loving someone completely while they have no clue how you feel. From that moment on, Martin established himself as a magnetic personality, so sensitive and such a chameleon. He is able to inhabit an emotion and convey it expertly, genuinely, and then launch into another mood. Like the great lyricists before him, he gives names to feelings listeners don't yet know they feel.

I'll be the first to admit, the near-identical chord progressions in louder Coldplay singles "Clocks" and "Speed Of Sound" are less than imaginative when juxtaposed, but both are still great songs. I prefer "Speed of Sound," even though "Clocks" is the song that made me fall in love with the band. "Speed of Sound" is more driving, more forceful, and more energetic. It is the sound of a confident band, something listeners weren't used to when the single was released off of the band's most recent album, 2005's X&Y. Yet "Clocks" has one of my favorite lyrics of the last ten years: "Am I part of the cure, or am I part of the disease?" Martin scores again. Decide for yourself.


"Speed of Sound"

"In My Place" wins as Coldplay's most emotional song of the drum-heavy set. Not since the Police's "Message in a Bottle" has a song of such isolation felt so inclusive. The longing and loneliness in Martin's voice could draw tears from the driest ducts. Only Coldplay could make something so depressing into a hit single. Plus, Will Champion's drumming is the caramel center in this chocolate truffle of a song. The song would be fine without it, but the unexpected strength of the drumming takes it from (to quote Spinal Tap) 10 to 11. Martin's lyrics are vague and highly relatable, as it seems only British songwriters like Morrissey and Thom Yorke can do(though Michael Stipe is the exception to the rule).

Every great band is capable of at least one great unabashed Beatles' reference. Coldplay's comes in the form of "Everything's Not Lost." With its singalong vibe and happy-go-lucky lyrics, Coldplay tries optimism on for size and finds it fits well, if only on this occasion. Even Coldplay, as solemn and over-thought as much of its music is, can still tilt a chin-up and turn a frown upside down. This song is a sweet attempt at finding a softer side of life, bathed in yellow light and butterflies (or maybe just not covered in complete gray). This is Coldplay's "Everybody Hurts," and Michael Stipe must be proud.

Never ones to shy away from politics, Coldplay confronted the issues of the day in an obvious way on "A Rush of Blood to the Head." The result is a stark look at human nature and power-grabbing, serving as almost a warning against senseless violence. Maybe the most disturbing Coldplay track, it is one that stays with listeners for a long time, tonally creating a post-apocalyptic setting. The song was so dark it was used as the theme for the third season of "Six Feet Under."

Coldplay's new album is said to be a departure from the band's earlier work. Let's hope the new single and new album live up to the great legacy the band has already built. Three albums deep and the band has already placed itself in the upper-echelons of the music world. Not so bad for a group nagged by its detractors for being a U2 rip-off.

-Meryn, who wants to be Gwyneth Paltrow every day.

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