I fell in love at the age of seventeen.
Predictably, not with a real person, but with the idea of love itself, expressed through the music of Coldplay. (It sounds grandiose, I know.)
The little-known band released their first studio album, Parachutes, in the summer of 2000, and I was smitten from the first time I played it on my car stereo. There was something about the simple ballads, the warmth and clarity of Chris Martin’s voice, and the genuineness of it all that won me over.
I also relished the fact that I was one of the few people in my circle of acquaintances that had heard of the band. (Probably the experience was different in the UK.) But beyond the selfish pleasure of musical snobbery, I found that I enjoyed sharing something that I loved with other people who might appreciate it as well.
Mine wasn’t a blind love, however, as I quickly became aware of the band’s weaknesses. They were and are lyrically anemic, as Chris Martin seems to specialize in sort of emptily evocative metaphors that could lead somewhere but never really do. The songs also had an internal repetitiveness that got tiresome after only a few listens.
They have always been at their best and most memorable with straightforward love songs such as “Yellow” and “Green Eyes.”
After Parachutes, of course I eagerly anticipated their next album, A Rush of Blood to the Head. They delivered on this one as well, crafting haunting piano-driven anthems like “The Scientist” and “Clocks” that highlighted Martin’s melancholic (sometimes annoyingly plaintive) voice to tell poignant stories of loss and brokenness.
With X&Y there was a definite shift in the band’s style, perhaps best described as a popularization of their music. They had certainly hit the mainstream by this point and were a fixture of pop culture. And while on the one hand they tried to maintain their good intentions, somewhere along they lost the ability to sing and make music and express themselves just for the sake of it.
They also made the crucial mistake of choosing to become a rock band with a cause, along the lines of U2. But while U2 was arguably a political band, or at least a band with a conscience from its inception, this was not the case with Coldplay and hence the impact on their music was profound. It was like they had bought the materials for a cottage and were suddenly trying to build a castle.
The hit single “Fix You” is a good case in point, well intentioned and with some musical potential but slightly unrealistic in its ambitions.
Who knows though; maybe Chris Martin really did think that since he had married Gwyneth Paltrow he was now capable of anything and could actually save – or at least comfort – the whole world.
I kind of lost interest for a while after X&Y and ended up almost completely skipping Viva la Vida except for a cursory listen. The overused French Revolution motif on the cover did little to pique my curiosity.
Nevertheless I had high hopes for their latest release, Mylo Xyloto. What can I say, except that the CD would fit in nicely next to the cashier at your local H&M. While they seem to be trying to say something deep about life, friendship and the meaning of it all, whatever they are trying to say is obscured by the flashing lights and the thrashing music.