(Text message from friend Mark (sic): can you email me a patrick rundown on coldplay? best songs, statistical analysis etc? thanks.)
My earliest memory of Coldplay was seeing silent footage of a still-hirsute (well, haired, anyway) youngish typically English whiny type walking on a beach at dawn in a preposterous anorak during an imported UK chart rundown style show on Channel [V]. The year is 2000, the month is July, and I am living in Cremorne, working in market research and Sydney is about the host the Olympics. The chyron reveals the band’s name and the song title — Yellow — which happens to be all at once and somewhat paradoxically if not completely contradictory, original, unique, memorable and self-contained in a kinda compact, efficient way that long titles and even most one-word or even monosyllabic designations fail to achieve, and but also overtly familiar, being a primary colour and all, and because the song’s lyrics describe (although I would not find this out till a few days later) stars, of which the sun is one, as this titular shade, and the sun is the most platitudinous of all things yellow, and the rising of the said yellow sun, which the music video (of which I am watching, albeit silently, when the super comes up revealing (and this is a synthesising of the on-screen data into a single line of simple text): “New Entry [at] #4: Yellow — Coldplay”) is obvs redolent of deeply personal experiences, the ones that have meant staying up so late that evening becomes night becomes morning becomes the actual dawn: first kiss, first love, first experience of amphetamines, first all those kinda things you don’t want to put a metaphorical cork in and seal up as a closed loop (which is what happens emotionally when we divide our experiences with that necessary and often welcome but also occasionally fearfully inopportune biological imperative called going to bed). Now several days later I am sitting in the same couch again watching Channel [V] but this time my Mum is sitting next to me and the volume is up. One clip ends and you get that quick indent reminding any Memento-style insta-amnesiacs what channel they are watching and your hand reaches for the remote in case the next video is sub-optimal (say, He Wasn’t Man Enough by Toni Braxton) when suddenly on my TV screen is an ocean setting visible only by thin slivers of gold and the speakers emit an effortless strum, one of those so finely plectrummed guitar hooks that you can visualise the playing, and in the meagre seconds between these strummings and the percussion kicking in you feel as though you could fall backwards into the melody and it would catch you and succour you and solve all your problems like a mellifluous panacea. I fell in love with Yellow before I loved any other person (romantic like), before Chris Martin comes into shot, before that first fateful line about looking at stars and how they shine and how they are yellow (which is, I believe objectively speaking wise, and incredibly naff piece of sans-layered lyricism) and around about this moment of love at first hearing I said to my Mum, “I’ve never heard this song before but it’s called Yellow and it’s at #4 in the UK this week”.
This is 16 years ago and the music label industrial complex is way different and cumbersome in its release schedule. Essentially, it is (ie back in 2000) all very top down, with music labels crafting finely tuned rollout plans for its valued artists, and new artists requiring an introduction and bedding in phase, often with an attendant FIFO microtour to wag chins with music hacks, DJs and VJs, are the ones (ie the new artists) most rigorously constrained into these meticulously laid out diaries (there is a brilliant track by The Smiths called Paint A Vulgar Picture that portrays this process at its most vulgar). And so unlike today when an album drops worldwide on a Friday and everyone listens all-but simultaneously, except in the case of those tedious exclusivity deals viz Frank Ocean w/r/t Blond(e) and Apple Music or Kanye West and I think it was Tidal (but like who wants to waste even a few seconds’ research on something as nauseating as Tidal), back in 2000 Coldplay’s record company (Parlophone) sharpens its pencil and decides that while 10 July is timely for a UK release, Australian maudlin music monomaniacs can wait till September, which is mind-boggling archaic when viewed through the contemporary prism of Spotify and YouTube and music piracy and the globalisation of music mapping and discovery (special mentions to SoundCloud and BandCamp and even ye olde protosocial hub MySpace). And so it came to pass that in the second week of September (incidentally, the week after (Australia’s Favourite Album) Odyssey Number Five by Powderfinger), Yellow’s LPic home Parachutes was the feature album on Triple J. This was the week directly preceding the lighting of the Olympic torch (similarly yellow, which instantly makes one consider the sly cunning of Parlophone to hold off Parachutes’ deployment to coincide with such a ubiquitously jonquil representation of antipodean esprit de corps (although I may be overthinking this correlation and giving Parlophone’s amanuenses too much credit (although, Parlophone is/was a German company, and German companies are famed for their meticulous planning))) and I was about to enter a dietary phase consistently near-exclusively of energy drink V, Peter Stuyvesant Lights, Olympics-tie-in McDonald’s and Bacardi Limon. You can probably draw a direct line between this prandial decadence and my hospitalisation in early October with extreme constipation and the sudden loss of my casual market research job, the disposal from which I took so personally, rejection-wise, that to both make myself feel better retail-therapy-like and wallow in self-pity, I went to my then fave local emporium, Metropolis Records in Young Street, Neutral Bay, and purchased in CD format the album containing the yellow dirge on high rotation.
Like most emoish kids I did-cum-do enjoy a good pity party but I also enjoy actual proper parties with friends and food and drink (and not just of the prenominate V/PSL/McD variety) so I soon started working at one of the Big Four banks, starting at 7am in the morning. And so on my Philips portable CD player (commonly called a Discman, though that is the trademarked name of a Sony model) on the bus to work in the wee small hours in the summer of 2000/01, I would listen to Parachutes over and over and over again. I named Yellow my #2 song of 2000 (behind Rock DJ by Robbie Williams) but on reflection it is definitely my fave song from that year…
(Much later on (ie 2012) when I ranked my Top 200 Songs of the 1990s (I consider 2000 to be the 10th year of the 1990s), Yellow placed at #11 (Rock DJ didn’t make the 200 at all.)
…and it was Australia’s fifth favourite track, based on Hottest 100 placement, behind one outstanding and one ho-hum Powderfinger song, a modern classic and a fun but essentially song a la novelty. Now one joke Ollie Wards and I shared when chatting about the Hottest 100 on Triple J’s The Tally Room program summer 2015/16 was that commercial radio stations use the Hottest 100 as their playlist for the next year. Not so much accurate these days with the more uniform release schedules but very much the done thing in 2000. Case in point, Yellow by Coldplay entered the Australian singles chart at #44 in early January 2001, six months after its release in the UK and four months after Parachutes was featured on the Js. Around about this time, Parachutes was voted the #3 album of 2000 by Triple J listeners, behind Radiohead’s Australian #2 album Kid A (read much, much more about that here) and the aforementioned Odyssey Number Five so there is absolutely no shame in that Bronze Medal. Yellow ended up peaking at #5 on the singles chart and although none of the other singles off Parachutes breached the Top 50, you just kinda knew that Coldplay wasn’t a one hit wonder in the Wheatus/Lo-Tel/Bomfunk MCs guise. Whatever his myriad sideline faults, Martin is a talented musician and the other guys must have some nous and they have always seemed to click tension-free-wise in a way that is distinctly unOasis and unBlur and prototypically U2ish.
My first live experience of Coldplay was at the Metro Theatre in Sydney on 22 January 2001. It was a Big Day Out sideshow, back when the Big Day Out truly was a big day out, and the heroes played 9/11 songs of Parachutes, an early version of In My Place and covers of You Only Live Twice and What The World Needs Now Is Love. It was brilliant!
My second live experience of Coldplay was at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney on 21 July 2003. I am digressing anachronistically here because I want to relay a comment overheard while egressing from the gig. It was something along the lines of, “They are so much more confident and assured than last time”. Look, it’s a wanky thing to say mid-absquatulation but it’s also accurate. (During that gig, Martin had “MAKE TRADE FAIR.COM” inked on his left hand in texta so it would be captured by the film crew when he played piano (and so it had begun) (that website can no longer be reached, btw))
In Australia to support A Rush Of Blood To The Head, their difficult second album, Coldplay (well, Martin) was starting to develop that swagger that has always tended to grate with both the milquetoast room-temperatureness of the music and Martin’s increasingly uncool Dad persona, the apogee of which was his stultifying appearance alongside coolness’s Bruno Mars and credibility Beyoncé Knowles-Carter at Super Bowl 50 (but now the anachronisms have gone too far). My point: Coldplay’s stature had grown with the release of Rush Of Blood, a finely crafted if over-produced rock album choc-full of creamy melodies, swooning guitars and fuzzy percussion (it’s a great album to listen to while wearing a windbreaker) and it produced what I would loosely describe as a string of hits: #23 In My Place, #28 Clocks, #43 God Put A Smile Upon Your Face and #40 The Scientist. At the risk of coming across completely crazy, I am a A Rush Of Blood To The Head completist…
(Photographic evidence:(again, not that I want to appear completely crazy) collection. Not shown: my cassette version (couldn’t be found) MP3, MP4 and ringtone versions (difficult to capture photographically) . I also had a poster and a tshirt that have gone missing along the way.)
…meaning I own it in CD, vinyl, cassette, DVD, MP3, MP4 and ringtone formats, plus I purchased all four of those CD singles and came to acquire the four singles on vinyl and won a limited edition Royksopp remix of Clocks in vinyl. (Briefly: the DVD of Rush Of Blood is a recording of the Hordern concert I had attended, which was then released commercially as a combination live DVD/CD, titled Live 2003, in November 2003, peaking at #16 in Australia. I was standing next to my leptosomatic friend (name redacted at this person’s request) at that gig and you can make out our silhouettes several times during the concert footage.)
The title track from Rush Of Blood opened up the Hottest 100 of 2002 at #100, Clocks was #69 and In My Place was #39. Clocks was back a year later, ticked along by its regular chiming in ubiquitous ads for the 2003 Rugby World Cup, at #5 (officially labeled Clocks (Royksopp Remix)), behind the worst winner in H100 history, my choice karaoke track at the Pickled Possum, an immortal riff and yet another otherwise instantly forgettable Powderfinger track. On the last day of 2003 I named Clocks the #1 song of that year, though over time I have cooled on this particular cut, preferring The Scientist as my fave song off AROBTTH, which I ranked at #46 in my Top 200 Songs of the 2000s countdown from the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend 2016. Clocks was awarded the Grammy for Record of the Year in 2004, which is essentially like winning the Best Picture Oscar for songs…
(Very quick skit to explain the three main Grammys categories (in order of importance):
- Record of the Year — awarded to performer/s of the best individual recording (ie song) from the preceding year.
- Album of the Year — awarded to the performer/s and producers and mixer &c &c of the best album (ie an LP comprising 8-14 songs, you know what I’m talking about).
- Song of the Year — awarded to the songwriter of the best written song of the preceding year, with not credit or statue going to the performer.)
Triple J listeners voted A Rush Of Blood To The Head the #8 of 2002. At the time I ranked it my #1 album of 2002 and the passing of time has not changed that consideration.
By the time C0ldplay’s third LP, X&Y, was released, I had moved from Sydney to commence a BA at the ANU in the ACT. Perhaps it was my exposure to new and interesting people (my fast and funky Zoroastrian friend dragged me to Hilltop Hoods during O-Week) that turned my ears away from MOR and towards more complex indie outfits like Mountain Goats, Shins, Panics and Decemberists; and naturally I was at the bleeding edge, though not quite literally, of bands like Panic! At The Disco, My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy. It was a very emotional time for me and my fringe. 2005 was a very confusing year for me (you will have to forgive me a moment of vulnerability). I suffered from bad a cover version of love, one that kinda tho not completely precipitated a neurasthenic episode, and involved a 6ish-hour road trip from (NSW coastal region centre name redacted) listening to X&Y from A2Z over and over and over again. I was experiencing a lot of feels for the first time on that road trip, and on the adjacent weeks, and listening back to X&Y now a decade-plus later always triggers the pain of loss but also the joy of experience. Hearts are like rules, which the great Joseph Stalin said were like pie crusts: made to be broken. X&Y is not a great album but it occupies a great place in my life and it debuted at #1 in Australia, the UK and the US. Coldplay had officially Cracked America. With my newfound confidence in analysing poetry, borne of my Distinction average performance in university English studies (achieved despite or, as a lot of these poems were quite maudlin and dolores, because of post-cardioid-collapse-conniptions), I was ready to in that there June 2005 to declare X&Y home to some of the worst, most trite, ill-conceived, cringe-worthy, nauseating, nails-down-a-chalkboard grating, easy-rhyming, queasy-timing lyrics in the history of music w/ artistic aspirations. Cases in point:
(Trigger Warning: Bad Lyrics, Worse Rhymes)
When you try you’re best but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want but not what you need
You could take a picture of something you see
In the future where will I be?
You could climb a ladder up to the sun
Or write a song nobody had sung
Or do something that’s never been done
And the hardest part
Was letting go, not taking part (okay these two don’t even rhyme!)
And the strangest thing
Was waiting for that bell to ring
Phonically, Coldplay experimented with fuzzier, walls of sound effects on X&Y, creating some interesting distortions, contemporaneous with similar outputs from Snow Patrol, Bravery and Editors, but never sounding as raw or authentic. It’s like Martin and Co asked producer Ken Nelson to overproduce the album till it sounded underproduced. Lead single Speed Of Sound is a funky electropop trip with an infectious chorus and a geolyrical hook referencing Japan and China that’s sharp enough to snag a serious piece of sashimi-grade yellowfin. It debuted at #2 in the UK, eclipsing Yellow’s #4 to achieve a new singular zenith, and rethrust the group back into Australia’s Top 10, at #9, five years after their apical saffron experience. By charting at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, Coldplay had scored its first US Top 10 hit. Flying at the Speed of Sound indeed! The truly terrible Fix You followed (it’s a song to listen to if you are contemplating suicide and are worried you won’t be able to go through with it) and although this song placed at #26 in the Hottest 100 of 2005, it marked the end of Coldplay being supported by Triple J (FWIW the far superior Speed Of Sound was at #36). Something about tears streaming down your face because you’ve lost something you can’t replace — ie Chris Martin’s hair or his erstwhile wife Gwyneth’s dignity or the group’s ability to accurately assess their own significance to the world of music, specifically, and the world, generally (in common parlance: to be self aware, a collective character trait that infuses evergreen acts, regardless of arrogance levels, like Oasis, and allows them to be in on the joke viz ‘bands that are trying to save the world, feed Africa, cure AIDS’ — that whole self-serving, self-aggrandising but painfully un-self-aware U2/Bob Geldof/Savage Garden nexus — rather than being the joke themselves. Despite Coldplay’s complete lack of self-awareness about its accessible brand of vanilla, Chris Martin amusingly appeared in an episode of Ricky Gervais’s Extras — Gervais being the quintessential filmmaking exponent on the overall subject of self-awareness (and the lack thereof (both actual celebrity-wise and wannabe celebrity-wise)) — to mock his own (ie Martin’s) lack of self-awareness (quotation from Extras S02E04 Chris Martin: (RG’s Andy Millman and CM are filming spot for a televised charity appeal and CM is in a rush) “Can we get on with this? I gotta do AIDS, Alzheimer’s and landmines this afternoon and I wanna get back in time for Deal Or No Deal. Plus, Gwyneth’s making drumsticks!”. It’s a glorious piece of double-meta Martin mockery. Martin is appearing on a show (ie Extras) crafted exclusively to highlight the craven vapidity of celebrity culture — of which he, at this time (2006), was a nonpareil exemplar — to mock his own lack of self-awareness, thereby showcasing his heightened sense of self-awareness. Except that every single piece of available evidence demonstrates, nay inculpates, Martin as having Bonoesque levels of complete detachment from any mirror into the public’s perception of him, whilst admittedly also having Bonoesque (slash Bonolite) levels of success/longevity/broad appreciation. X&Y has smashed it outta the park, Coldplay has a decent claim to being the biggest band in the world, but instead of simply acting like a normal person in everyday life (for example, his children’s names are Moses and Apple), frontman Chris Martin guests on a TV show to act (as in ham up) like a normal person) and play Fix You in a factory in Wigan (“it’s mental”) to promote a fictional greatest hits compilation (this, again, is a nuanced piece of meta self-awareness exploration: because the album Martin is promoting on the show (When The Whistle Blows) within a show (Extras) is fictional, there is a plausible deniability about the true reason for Martin agreeing to appear on the show (ie Extras), that being to mock himself ruthlessly (emphasising his self-awareness) and altruistically, without any sub-rosa personal benefits. But of course by including an extended clip of him singing Fix You (Australian #25, incidentally), replete with the lights dimmed to set the mood and his show (ie When The Whistle Blows) costars swooning in time to tug the h(ear)tstrings, Martin is promoting the song, and with it X&Y, to all the viewers (3.6 million in the United Kingdom for its original broadcast) at home. Now of course, Martin’s appearance on When The Whistle Blows (within the Extras extended universe) is skewering the whole incredulously concocted celebrity guest star culture that infects scripted TV programming (again, “it’s mental”), something Martin is otherwise happy to do outside the secure confines of the show-within-a-show Inception-style exercise in self-awareness, viz his cameo appearances in The Simpsons, Shaun Of The Dead and Brüno (the last two of which the author is aware are films and not TV shows) (meanwhile, non-Martin members of Coldplay have appeared in Game Of Thrones)).).
Subsequent sequels from X&Y were (in Australia) #20 Talk and #40 The Hardest Part. I keep going back and listening to X&Y b/c it reminds me of a painful and turbulent time in my life, one that devastated me, yet one I emerged from a stronger, “friendlier” (according to a dear friend who has since received a PhD from MIT (mentally perspicacious) and is now training to be a Jesuit priest (morally astute)), highish functioning adult — it was the soundtrack to my personal growth arc — so, y’know, normal rules do not apply. And I can guarantee you that X&Y lattitude notwithstanding, I promised myself I would never buy another Coldplay album as long as I lived…
(A quick interruption to discuss Coldplay’s videography (Part 1): Yellow and The Scientist have achieved deserved iconic status among music video aficionados, the former for its distinctive, juvenile Martin’s single-shot, night-becomes-day walk in the sand; and the latter for the incredible special effects and narrative ingenuity in telling a concussed love story in reverse. Shiver is fine too because it showcases the band at its most youthfully optimistic. Fix You melds Martin walking down the street with a live performance and it is completely ridiculous. The Hardest Part has a sly charm to it, mocking the myriad satellite city local breakfast TV programming (quod vide the tone and intellectual rigour of Sunrise or Today but after taking a handful of Quaaludes and mainlining a bottle of Jack Daniel’s), though the enjoyment of this clip is tempered by the unfortunate allied reality of hearing the song.)
…but then something truly amazing happened: Coldplay released Violet Hill. Then mere days later Viva La Vida. Within the space of a few weeks in May 2008, the heroes had emerged from their algebraic torpor to worm their way back into my soul, not just through tangential soundtracking of intimate upheaval, but via soulful, understated, effortless melodies, infused with cool Latin hooks and overlaid with polished and, mercifully, well-written, evocative, poetic lyrics. I started my first fulltime job as a journo that month and with my first paycheque as a professional writer (of sorts) I purchased Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends on CD from JB Hi-Fi in Pitt Street Mall. I was starved for new tunes at that time, and being freshly flush with cash, I also splurged on It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, In Rainbows, Our Love To Admire and Oracular Spectacular. (This was the second last instance of me purchasing an actual physical CD for my own use (I have since bought actual physical CDs for streamingly-challenged kinfolk); the final buying being Day & Age six months hence). Violet Hill was a solid chart hit — #9 in Oz, #8 in the UK and #40 in the US — but with Apple’s iPod adprimatur exploding its exposure, it was Viva La Vida that lived the long life, hitting #1 in the US and the UK, finally sealing the fourpiece’s place in popular music history. By this stage I had written off Coldplay’s chances of ever scoring a UK #1, let alone topping the US charts (to highlight what an awesome achievement this is, consider that Britpop’s national anthem, Wonderwall, only reached #8 in the US), so to come back with such critical and commercial aplomb is remarkable. Viva La Vida stalled at #2 in Australia (behind No(t) (f)Air) , cruelly depriving Viva La Vida / Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends from being simultaneously/concurrently #1 on both the singles and albums charts in Australia, the UK and the US. Viva La Vida won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 2009 but lost Record of the Year to Please Read The Letter (?!) and Album of the Year to Raising Sand (?!). This was last time Coldplay has been nominated for any major Grammys. Several years later I would rank Violet Hill the #168 song of the 2000s and Viva La Vida #152. Lost! is also on Viva La Vida and that is a top ditty.
January 2009 I visited some friends living in Berkeley, near San Francisco, in the United States. We drove to Yosemite National Park for some ecotourism and while walking through the hills to a sequoia forest, feet trudging on and through pristine virginal snow, Violet Hill firmly ensconced as my earworm, I was furtively reduced to lacrimation by the natural beauty around me, the unfolding loveliness of friendship and the music of Coldplay.
My third live experience of Coldplay was at the 2011 Splendour in the Gravel at Woodford, 70-odd kilometres northwest of Brisbane. I was supposed to spend this music festival weekend with a friend I really cared for and about but we barely saw each other because he was preoccupied with other stuff and I didn’t suppress my frustration the way men are expected to. So instead of hanging with my friend that I had traveled significant kms to see, I spent most of that festival reading A Storm Of Swords while drinking James Squire, smoking Peter Stuyvesants (still?!) and listening to Foster The People, Bluejuice, Jebediah and The Kills (between the songs in their set I would yell out lols like “Mr Brightside“, “Smile Like You Mean It“, “When You Were Young“ (hilarious stuff!)). So on the final night of my first campaway music festival, instead of chilling with this friend who would later unfriend me on Facebook (and that was a real blow), I rocked out on my pat to a Coldplay greatest hits style live show, as the band wasn’t actually touring an album, as it was still several months before the release of Mylo Xyloto.
It all got a little bit outre at this point. The ridiculously titled Mylo Xyloto is named for the two protagonists (Mylo is the boy, Xyloto is the girl) who fall in love in an Orwellian dystopia called Silencia, ruled by a despotic government waging war against colour and sound. The lunacy continues…
Silencia has been taken over by a supremacist government, led by Major Minus, who controls the population through media and propaganda. His aim is to take sound and colour off the streets in hope to draw away “feeders”, creatures that use such energy to hunt its prey. The album follows Mylo, a “silencer”, who is one of an army tasked to hunt and track down “sparkers”, people who harness light and energy and use it to create sparks, comparable to graffiti in real life.
(Above paragraph stolen directly from Wikipedia. There is no citation of a source for this guff so it may have been fabricated by an inventive editor on a lark but, with everything we’ve learnt about Coldplay so far, it was most likely Martin himself updating the page.)
…to its natural corollary: Coldplay samples Peter Allen’s I Go To Rio on lead-out single Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall, the title of which perfectly encapsulates Coldplay’s recidivism into corny songwriting. This exercise in blandness — and that is some achievement considering I Go To Rio is a great song — hit #6 in the UK and #14 in Australia, but the madness was to reach Inception levels when the next single, Paradise, lyrically samples ETIAW:
Life goes on, it gets so heavy
The wheel breaks the butterfly
Every tear a waterfall
It’s like Yeats rolled into a Shakespeare kebab with a dash of Shelley sauce! Paradise somehow managed to become Coldplay’s second UK #1 hit — this one really does boggle the mind — and by hitting #3 in Australia, it eclipsed Yellow’s peak, though mercifully could not unseat the magnificent Viva La Vida as their Biggest Hit. There’s not much else to say about Mylo Xyloto: there is simply no reason to ever listen this album, not even for the Rihanna guest spot on (Australian chart peak) #16 Princess Of China and definitely not for “centrepiece” (guffaw) track Charlie Brown.
As this unnecessarily attenuated and tediously prolix love letter has hopefully communicated is that Coldplay has persisted with a high degree of success and consistency despite periods of total upheaval in the music industrial complex. From the highly orchestrated and structured release of Parachutes to the money-grabbing live DVD/CD combo to the opportunistic double-single release to promote an album in an age of 99-cent-(or near enough)-downloads to high concept rock narratives festooned onto prosaic albums in a transparent act of callow avarice, Coldplay has surfed the capricious waves of popular music’s tides with admirable acuity. And so it was that sixth album Ghost Stories was released with a prime time TV special, an accompanying visual album (and I’m still not 100 per cent sure what exactly that means), whistle-stop promo tours (including to Newtown, in Sydney, to film a music video (qv below)) and five essentially homogenous singles. What wasn’t homogenous, however, was Coldplay’s sound. Utilising the stripped back faux-acoustic trap sound that would burst into the mainstream via hip-hop and rap channels through the mid-2010s, Ghost Stories was rife with chillaxing ambience and Enoesque modulation — the kinda electro sounds you hear cooler people than you and me describe as “warm” — and I think you can draw a direct line between the lush and calming influence of the prestigious Magic and some of the better work by The 1975 and worser work by Whitney. Always In My Head sets the scene for this plangent collection of elegies to conscious uncoupling; then you have the dark, brooding Midnight, an outstanding song to listen to while staying up late reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula (srsly the only vampire book you need to read (except maybe Let The Right One In (thanks Hannah!))); and A Sky Full Of Stars brings it all together by conflating traditional Coldplay misery with a hint of Avicii-style optimism (verisimilitude too: how often do we gaze upon a crowd of people (the metaphorical sky fulla stars) and see the faces of our lost loves in every passerby (surely by now you realise it frequently betides me)?). ASFOS debuted at #11 in Australia and vacillated around the nether regions of the chart till the boys arrived on these shores for a whirlwind tour…
(Another quick interruption to discuss Coldplay’s videography (Part 2): And on that Ghost Stories promo tour, the boys filmed their fairly awesome clip for A Sky Full Of Stars, which involved Martin and his colleagues Guy Berryman, Will Champion and Jonny Buckland dressing up as Music Men, with myriad baroque instruments fettered to their persons, gambolling King Street in Newtown like many a tired and emotional Patrick before them. (Speed break to say my fave pub in Newtown is the Courtyard, a distinctly brilliant AFL pub a coupla streets back from the main drag, which has a pounding public bar area (incidentally, where I watched the returns for the tie election (according to Peta Credlin) that led to Julia Gillard’s minority government); a tightly squeezed pokie den (known in Sydney patois as a VIP Area), where I once took $500 outta the Queen of the Nile; and the eponymous courtyard, where I once chatted briefly to a young lass with a Pabst Blue Ribbon tattoo (PBR was the beer of choice for me and the male half of the Yosemite-trip friends discussed supra, so it was a thrill to meet someone with similar emotional ties to an otherwise revolting potent potable).) The clip’s denouement involves a big singalong and lotsa smiles from the assembled extras, further adding to the positive notes that run contra to the morose lyrical content. Off MX, Coldplay released a eary-model lyric video (except they craftily labeled it a music video proper (hint hint every other musical act in the world today, this is very easy to get away with)) for Paradise, which I guess helps with learning the words and singing along but, again, there is absolutely no reason to ever listen to tracks from this album. The video for Magic, however, is a short film love story set in amongst a traveling troupe of carnies, and is reminiscent of U2’s All-Time Classic submission for All I Want Is You, and is worth watching if only for Martin’s awkward attempts to slackline.)
…when it shot like a comet in the, comme on dit, sky fall of stars, from #24 to #2 (behind Que Sera by Justice Crew (God help us)), equalling Viva La Vida penultimate peak. Magic reached #5 and Midnight #25.
Incorporating collabs with Tove Lo, Beyoncé, Noel Gallagher and, naturally, Barack Obama, Coldplay’s seventh and most recent album A Head Full Of Dreams was released in December 2015 (just in time for a certain holiday event that often triggers 20-somethings buying easy-listening records for their boring parents). It debuted at #1 in the UK, making it a magnificent seven straight studio #1 LPs in their homeland, but only at #2 in Australia and the US (both behind that other patron saint of gifting Adele (title: 25)). (Very quickly: Coldplay seven album peaks in Australia (in order): #2, #1, #1, #1, #1, #1, #2; and in the US: #51, #5, #1, #1, #1, #1, #2.) As one can imagine from the above list of coconspirators, AHFOD is quite the pop departure from the Diet Radiohead feel of Ghost Stories. Adventure Of A Lifetime (#20 = Oz) is catchy, breezy, happy without being saccharine and easy to like; it’s reminiscent of the fifth single released from a boyband’s album. The Beyonce air Hymn For The Weekend (#24) is like a splash of incandescent paint across a blank canvas, all Jackson Pollock like — it does indeed sound like Friday arvo, about to paint the town red, spend a fortune on Red Bulls & vodkas and barely remember anything come Saturday morn (tho your online bank statement always remembers) — but you can just tell Beyoncé is saving herself for Lemonade, which would drop a few months later.
(Final quick interruption to discuss Coldplay’s videography (Part 3): Adventure Of A Lifetime falls into that modern category of combination music video-cum-speaker brand advertisement, in this case, Beats. Roll your eyes, of course, at this base pandering to Apple and its subsidiaries, but also appreciate that there is a very amusing piece of digitally animated choreographed synchronised dance moves by the primates representing the bandmembers in amongst the browBeating. Hymn For The Weekend’s video was widely criticised for the very modern sin of cultural appropriation. Essentially, the boys and, maybe, Beyoncé as well (look I’m 5,533 words into this monstrosity and really can’t be bothered looking this up (okay, hold up…actually…it’s hard to locate a trustworthy source on whether Beyoncé traveled to the Subcontinent or merely phoned it in)) are in India, surrounding by cliched representations of this mystical land — dots on foreheads, superannuated bearded men in robes, cheeky-grinned kids remaining upbeat despite abject penury, propinquity to rivers, rococo jewellery fastened to non-traditional body parts (you get the idea; the kinda scenes scathed by one critic under the rubric “India is not an Orienatlist fantasy” (sic)) — being daubed in liquid technicolour while roaming the back alleys being chased by panhandling, hero-worshipping Indian children. That Coldplay comprises four gratuitously white middle class English men only heightens the colonial/imperial thematic imagery being unsubtly transmitted to the viewer. Whilst I am sure the cultures being appropriated have been chagrined re these ethnic/cultural/class visitations for some time, it’s only fairly recently that the First World has started to pay attention and come down hard on such characterisations. As someone who has traveled widely through a multitude of countries and continents stretching the spectrum from irretrievably impoverished to extreme wealth (inc four hours in India), I can tell you that accurate, holistic and empathetic portrayals are the best way to communicate cultural nuances from one corner of the world to another. For that reason, I aver against Hymn For The Weekendist appropriation. That said, the video does look very cool and is eminently watchable and you can see why pop stars fall over themselves to appropriate culture, because it does make for good copy, and we all have to share the shame at that reality.)
I tried my hardest to get into A Head Full Of Dreams. At the time of its release I was between jobs and feeling confused about my place in the world. I had written this Hottest 100 post as a lark and it had gone viral, triggering profile pieces, a weekly guest spot on Triple J and the kind of broad popular acclaim that literally everybody craves. Still, I wasn’t working and all that free time can lead the mind into depths of self-doubt, internal torture and low self-esteem; benthic plumbs I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. Maybe it’s A Head Full’s zephyric dismissal of worldly troubles, infused with an ephemeral sanguinity, that doesn’t appeal to someone seeking pathos from their musical escapes. Sad songs work when you’re happy or sad because we’ve all been sad and when we’re happy we know how fragile that state can be. Happy songs never work when you’re down with the black dog because you feel like you’ll never be happy again, like the artist isn’t trying to encourage you or motivate you but simply mock you, mercilessly and derisively.
Ranking of Coldplay’s Seven Albums:
- A Rush Of Blood To The Head
- Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
- Ghost Stories
- A Head Full Of Dreams
- Mylo Xyloto
Coldplay’s 10 Best Songs
- The Scientist
- Viva La Vida
- Don’t Panic
- Violet Hill
- Speed Of Sound
- Amsterdam (taken from the Live 2003 concert I attended in Sydney)
My fourth live experience of Coldplay is coming up this week in Brisbane and I’m very much looking forward to it.
The good news is I spun that Hottest 100 post, circuitously at least, into a fulltime job and here I am, writing thousands of words about Coldplay, the band that shepherded me through my whole adult life. Work, love, study, disappointment, heartbreak, recovery, friends won and lost.
Look at the stars, look how they shine for you.
And it was all yellow.
Test message conversation with Mark (from the top of this story):
Absolutely the final discussion of Coldplay’s videography (Part 4): Mark is onto something here: the video for Up&Up is a mindbending surreal assault on our assumed perspectives of the world, complete with some unsubtle commentary on Trumpism, climate change, the global refugee crisis and waste creation and management. The surreal mastery of Salvador Dali is clearly an influence on this short film, which includes riveting shots of turtles swimming the subway, skiiers descending a pillow, the Golden Gate Bridge spanning a puddle and garbage barges in the bathtub. My personal fave is the wall erected on the beach to separate swimmers from the water. It’s weird (and shares similarities with Gus Van Sant’s clip for Hanson’s Weird), incisive and poignant, while eschewing easy sentimentality. Most of all, its infuriatingly creative: the sheer volume thought-provoking set pieces showcased will drive you nuts (in a good way) with thoughts of ‘how did they come up with so many awesome ideas’!)