This past Tuesday, the grandeur that is Coldplay revealed their summer tour schedule, showing a 42 date route through North America. This tour, through all arenas and amphitheaters, will probably sell out completely just like both their fall and winter world tours.
To me, that is almost incomprehensible. How can you be that relevant? How can you become that massive touring conglomerate that sells out at will? Droves of people are willing to not just watch them, but borderline worship them, in the impersonal, massive venues that Coldplay is playing.
These barely 30-somethings aren't playing music that turns stadiums into living rooms, but they are playing music that brings stadiums to their feet. Chris Martin writes songs you can sing to the rafters and lyrics that are bigger than himself. The songs were always there, but the main reason they are still relevant lies completely in the transition between X&Y and their newest release, Viva la Vida.
In case you missed it, Viva La Vida was the best selling album worldwide in '08, dropping 6.8 millions copies and inciting more than its fair share of awards, commercial opportunities and collaborations. Don't get me wrong, whatever Coldplay threw out after X&Y would have moved a million or two, garnered at least one arena tour, and been nominated for an award or two. But they would have seen nothing like this.
After the release of X&Y, Coldplay had that brit-pop, U2 leaning sound mastered. They could craft hits that would make their way on to the radio and sell out some shows, but they had encountered a problem. "Speed of Sound" sounded a bit too much like "Clocks", and the album didn't hit with critics in quite the way that 2002's "A Rush of Blood to the Head" did. They were coasting. Another album in the same vein and there is no doubts the seats would not be filled, but Coldplay recognized this. They enlisted notoriously electronic producer Brian Eno and crafted a group of songs that were as risky as they were good. They gave away first single "Violet Hill" for free and launched a worldwide marketing scheme that involved free concerts in Barcelona, New York, and London.
The set of nearly flawless songs that comprises Viva La Vida is a career milestone for Coldplay. It was their Achtung Baby, their Kid A. They needed this album to stay important, to "fill the seats". U2's newest release was good, but their music hasn't been culturally relevant since "All That You Can't Leave Behind." They fill seats because Bono is an icon and a legend, but Chris Martin doesn't have his swagger, his flair of arrogance. Besides, U2 fills seats for what they have done, not what they're doing. Coldplay sells out arenas because of what they're doing.
In the current state of the music business, records aren't selling today like they did ten years ago. Hell, in 1998, Shania Twain put up nearly the same numbers as Coldplay did in 2008. Touring is the new revenue. Coldplay has this revenue because there is no "Speed of Sound" to be found on Viva La Vida. There is no "Clocks," only "Lost!" and "Violet Hill." Chris Martin knew what had to be done, and he did it.