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How Coldplay Is Providing You With A Service (And Why You Should Be Grateful)


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From Forbes.com:


Type “Coldplay is” into Google’s search engine and you’ll get a chiasmus of mixed emotions: in descending order, you see the sentence completed by “amazing,” “terrible,” “boring,” and “awesome. ”


The colossal “meh” of these search results is often mirrored in the consensus of music critics: Sasha Frère-Jones, investigating his own interiors for why he doesn’t like Coldplay, begins with “it’s hard to deal with vexingly adequate music.” Others echo the sentiment—the New York Times calling them “the most insufferable band” of the last decade for example. I myself have lined up at the Coldplay batting range for my place at the plate, hoping to hit my own “Coldplay is insipid” metaphor out of the park.


Yet they continue to sell records. Many, many records—more than fifteen million since they began. In an age where selling records means more because it’s just that much harder to do, Coldplay is a consistently good bet, like Will Smith five years ago at the multiplex.


Their new record, entitled Ghost Stories, drops today, and we’re already going through the Coldplay cycle again: some critics will moan, others will try not to as much, and essentially, it will not matter; companies will line up to license this music for film and television, and if history is doomed to repeat itself, a lot of you will be buying (or stealing) this record, regardless of what I have to say about it.


Yet a survey of pop-culture suggests that Coldplay is, at the very least, unhip, if not uncool: they are and continue to be the butt of vastly popular jokes (who can forget the enlistment of their name in The Forty Year Old Virgin)—so much so that the Washington Post posted “A Brief History of Coldplay Insults.”


One wonders how a band with such a scarlet letter on their foreheads (would it be “U” for “Uncool,” or “L” for “Lame?”) became one of the last “bands”—as opposed to that other, horrible epithet, “artists”—to play for such high stakes in the mainstream arena of pop.


More importantly, one tends to wonder why?


Why will Coldplay continue to appeal, even as we know them, in our bones, to be uncool?


Put it another way: why is it possible that if I confess I actually like the new Coldplay record, you’ll likely lose respect for my tastes, and what is more likely, go out and buy the record anyway?


That’s the question I woke pondering this morning, as “Magic”—the second song off the album (and one whose introduction will inevitably draw comparisons to the way Radiohead often constructs its grooves)—stuck in my head in an endless loop that I did not necessarily mind.


Contemplating the music because I had to—it would not leave the brain, no matter how hard I’d strain—I came up with a theory for the “why” of Coldplay. One that’s very simple to grasp. It’s progenitor comes in the quote, “Chris Martin and company rose to prominence by distilling the sounds of their ancestors and critically feted contemporaries into hyper-melodic, stadium-sized anthems.” But there’s more to the story; it’s not that Coldplay is simply a rip-off band.


Well, it is that, and it’s also more than that: Coldplay remains popular because they continue to strive to rip off better music; when they reach a plateau of influence, they’ll call in their influence’s influences—people like Brian Eno—to help crystalize their results.


They are, in effect, rip-off artists of the best kind, and here’s why:


Because of a foothold they achieved almost fifteen years ago—In the context of a vastly different sonic landscape (more on that later)—they have maintained a portal into the mainstream, maintaining this entre through chart positions, sales, placements in Apple commercials, licensing for film and TV, and through the vast engine of popular spite—of those relentlessly making fun of them, yet somehow, deifying them in the process.


More importantly, they have utilized this portal–again and again–to insure and enshrine a very specific aesthetic—one from which we have largely moved on as EDM and R’n'B become dominant ingredients in the pop formula.


Yes, Coldplay has fooled us all: they are not a band, but a service—they are aggregators of other, better music; what is more, the music they represent is one that carries a vastly different sound (and ethos) than what has been driving the pop charts in recent years.


In this way, Coldplay is an interpretive streaming music service, a proto-Pandora station with a specific—and specifically evocative—roster of other people’s music.


They have gotten to this place not by calculation, but by chance: people, I think, tend to forget the soundscape in which Coldplay was formed; it was far different from the one we trudge through today.


In 2000, bands like Travis were fruitful, peopling the landscape with their brand of wimpy melody. The mesmerizing voice of Jeff Buckley had just crossed over from underground to something resembling a wider spread recognition. Fans of loftier rock lay in weighting for Kid A, with little inkling that it would be such a radical departure. The new corporate rock—the legion of Nickelback wannabes which, I believe, pushed guitars to the bottom of the instrument bin—was only beginning to make its ascent. The letters “JT” were not instantly recognizable when coupled, but the syntactical formulation of “*NSync” sure was.


When rushing to judge this mellow “Yellow” foursome, I don’t think people remember just how much Coldplay actually commanded our attention in this old soundscape, blending in just enough with the timbre of the times to ensure themselves a place at the microphone, yet standing out against this backdrop–enough so that they became indelible; people forget that a song like “Shiver” had, for lack of better words, heft. People forget that “Everything’s Not Lost” had soul.


People forget this, I believe, because by the time their second record came out, Coldplay the band had started to leave us, and Coldplay the Service had begun to take up shop, providing us with both a formula (for pop music) and straight up “Formula”–the baby food version of other, better music.


The difference with Ghost Stories is that finally, all of this has clicked into place for me, and I have become thankful for the service that Coldplay provides, which is basically bottling and sterilizing the feeling, ethos, and sound of better, more original bands, and in turn, distilling these sounds for all to hear.


I’m grateful for this service because it holds the attention of the public’s mind, and because the sound of it is, at least, evocative of a music which has largely departed from the mainstream.


And so, since I have found the beauty of Coldplay’s intrinsic unoriginality—in that it provides a palpable service to consumers—I’m going to try, in my own way, to provide a similar good turn; rather than just sit here and say “Coldplay ripped so-and-so off”, I’m going to provide my own corollaries, my own aggregations of taste, but in reverse:


Chances are, if you like songs of their new album, you’ll love these selections from other, less established bands and artists.


For a song like “Always In My Head” Substitute this:


Steven Wilson, “The Raven That Refused To Sing.”




If you’re a fan of the slow build to a longing climax—the template of Ghost Stories’ opener, please do yourself a favor and listen to the song above in its entirety. It accomplishes the same journey as “Always In My Head”, but on a far grander (and less obvious) scale.


Or this:


Deftones, “Hole In The Earth.”


Not the most obvious choice, especially since this song is a guitar heavy, startling metal waltz—the antithesis of what Coldplay will deliver on this record.


Except in one notable way: the intense vocal yearning of Chris Martin’s instrument. If that has had an effect on you, I’m willing to put money down on Chino Moreno–his execution of the vocal on this song will elicit similar shivers.


This is what a Coldplay song would sound like if the band had better distortion pedals and a drug problem.


For a song like “Ink,” substitute this:


Eric Clapton, “Circus Left Town.”


With songs like “Magic” and “Ink,” Coldplay trends towards the Adult Contemporary, and in particular, the Adult Contemporary sound of the nineties–the Babyface aesthetic of smooth rhythmic beds, affected pianos, and songs based on loops rather than journeys from one place to another.


However, in tunes like “Ink,” Coldplay fail to totally own the conventions of Adult Contemporary, and leave us limply stranded somewhere between two genres.


So if you like a song like “Ink,” why not just go for it and dust off this classic Eric Clapton gem about the loss of his son? You’ll be surprised how similar—and how much more affecting—this song is.


For a song like “True Love,” substitute this:


Hawksley Workman, “Wayside”


Words cannot express how much I respect the quirky voice and songwriting of Canadian great Hawksley Workman. It’s truly a shame this fellow isn’t more recognized here in the States, particularly since he does the “sensitive man” act in a way that never feels infantilizing. This song, the closer off his fantastically danceable album Milk, accomplishes the same feeling of a song like “True Love” with far less slickness, replacing the panache with raw, credible soul.


For a song like “Midnight,” substitute this:


Imogen Heap, “Hide And Seek”.


Look, everyone’s going to tell you “Midnight” is a rip off of either James Blake or Bon Iver. But I’m encouraging you to go back farther, to this haunting, vocoded classic from 2005. This is where you’ll find the bones for a tune like “Midnight”.


For a song like “Oceans” substitute this:


Hawksley Workman, “No Beginning No End”


That’s right, I’m giving you a double dose of Hawksley. Why? Because he deserves it. And if you like a song like “Oceans,” at once acoustic, at once electric, and filled with that Coldplay sentiment of yearning and solipsism, you’ll love the journey this song will take you on.


For a song like “O,” substitute this:


Porcupine Tree, “Collapse The Light Into Earth”




Coldplay ends their selection with a mournful piano ballad, one nostalgic for happier times and cognizant of the fact that happier times won’t be swinging round for a while. If that’s your vibe, I strongly suggest you give this song a try: it’s a four chord wonder of arrangement, and the lyrics—as obvious as anything Coldplay has done—carry a directness that can’t help but sting.



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the truth in the end is that every band in this world is a rip-off of another, which is a rip-off of another "another band", and so it goes


Same goes with art. We draw what we have seen been drawn by other artist, that got his inspiration by another piece of art, that was inspired by blah blaH BAH



I think it doesn't matter, if it isn't too obviously ripped off. If the song sounds really nice, why not just enjoy it no matter if it reminds us of something else?

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Also interesting points, though I respectfully disagree with quite a few. I don't think the writer was fueled by a desire to be genuinely unkind or arrogant, but he did come off as

fairly condescending and made more than a few generalizations which in effect made this more of an interesting opinion piece than a well rounded argument.

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Articles like this really annoy me. Why cant' for once critics actually praise coldplay for their own sound without having to put them down at least a little bit


Every critic wants to be polarizing, otherwise they know they won't be heard, and nobody will really give a shit. That's why their reviews are pompous, at least in my opinion. They have to assert some sort of pompous self-indulgence to somehow command respect from the reader, so that their review or "critique" of the "SUBJECTIVE" subject they are critiquing will somehow be taken seriously.



While I understand what this guy is trying to say, I think the theory is rather ridiculous. You know what's interesting? Progress, or change in the world is a universally accepted thought, except for music. Only in music do people absolutely HATE change, and it's only in this part of life, as far as I know, that this is this way. We as humans are influenced all throughout life, but we expect bands to not be influenced by other sounds, other ways of creating music? We expect bands to act like cave-men, except cave-men eventually discovered fire and evolved. We expect bands to act like cave-men that never evolved -- just do the same sound, the same idea for the band's life-span. It just doesn't work that way.


As far as this review goes, I'm not sure what Viva La Vida could be compared to, or MX, or X&Y for that matter. I am no music elitist either, so I wouldn't be able to draw comparisons. I deny the idea that Coldplay is a "service." What? They're a band, they make music that they like. I guarantee you if the writer of that critique made music, it'd be influenced by a sound he's heard, his chords would be similar of that of another song's chords, and his lyrics would be influenced by a subject-matter already written about. You want to know what I think of this review? I think it's all pretty evident in this post.

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I think no matter how good Coldplay albums are, people will nitpick because it all boils down to "It's cool to hate Coldplay". So let's just celebrate that the band released a new album and because after all is said and done, Coldplay will still be Coldplay and haters will still be haters. Yes?

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