There's a lot of gloomy, end-of-times talk in the record business these days about the death of the industry. Fewer and fewer new acts break through every year, and the ones that do never seem to have any staying power, writes the Charlotte Observer.
But that paradigm doesn't apply to Coldplay, which plays Charlotte's Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Friday. At a time when “gold is the new platinum,” this British quartet still moves tonnage that recalls the industry's glory days. Last year's “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends” (Capitol Records), Coldplay's fourth album, has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide – easily the top-selling album of 2008.
Somehow, Coldplay has emerged as The Last Big Band, combining mainstream popularity with industry respect and widespread (though not unanimous) critical acclaim. Similar to Fleetwood Mac in the '70s, U2 in the '80s or R.E.M. in the '90s, Coldplay has become one of those omnipresent consensus bands whose lyrics get scribbled in yearbooks.
As to why that is, Coldplay's members are just as puzzled as anyone else. “I know what you mean, there just aren't many bands that tour at our level these days,” says bassist Guy Berryman, calling from a tour stop in Houston. “I don't think we're the last one, but who knows when the next will be? The key to us is that we just work really, really hard. We've constantly written and recorded and toured, visiting places over and over and over. We've just stuck at it and never really stopped the last 10 years. That's it.”
Coldplay's perch is so lofty nowadays that potshots are inevitable. One of the less-welcome salvos to come the band's way was a plagiarism lawsuit filed last December, in which guitarist Joe Satriani claimed that Coldplay stole the riff of the “Viva La Vida” title track from his 2004 composition “If I Could Fly.” The case is still pending. “Yes, that's something we could do without,” Berryman says of the lawsuit. “But I guess it happens. We just have to deal with it in whatever way it needs to be dealt with. But it's very distressing to us. It was very surprising when it happened.”
Of course, some of Coldplay's detractors might say that charges of plagiarism are only comeuppance. For all the pleasantness of Coldplay's music, it's hardly ground-breaking. It does, however, fit right between two of Britain's leading contemporary bands as a synthesis of Radiohead and U2 – more accessible than the former, a bit less than the latter – creating a perfect commercial micro-niche in the field of anthemic, majestic arena-rock. Throw in a charismatic frontman in singer/keyboardist Chris Martin (husband of Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow) and the group's well-intentioned political activism, and it's small wonder that Coldplay has prospered.
To his credit, Martin has said of Radiohead, “We owe them a career, really.” And the band certainly tried to stretch a bit on “Viva La Vida” by enlisting producer Brian Eno, one of the primary architects of U2's cathedral-like sonics. While it's not a huge departure, “Viva La Vida” does sound more atmospheric than Coldplay's previous three albums.
“Every producer is slightly different,” Berryman says. “Some are more geared up to the engineering side, with microphone settings and equipment, while others are more into ideas and concepts. That's what Brian is about. He's less interested in fine-tuning sounds than the concept, the songs and rhythms and arrangements and how they all fit together. He was instrumental in making this album sound different from anything else we've done before. ”
Another change on “Viva La Vida” is that Martin sings most of the songs in a lower register than his signature falsetto croon. And even though Coldplay has never been the cheeriest bunch, this album might be the group's bleakest yet. Multiple songs make references to death (“Bury me in honor/When I'm dead and hit the ground”), or falling short of a heavenly afterlife (“You didn't get to heaven but you made it close”).
But when asked whether or not Martin's lyrics indicate a growing melancholia, Berryman politely demurs. “The lyrics are all Chris,” Berryman says. “The rest of us might flag something that doesn't seem quite right. But he's a great lyricist, so we usually just let him get on with it. And we don't analyze things, really. The best lyrics come out naturally without you having to think about them at all, and we'd rather leave interpretations open to others. So we don't get into heavy discussions about what they mean. There's a feeling from the lyrics, and we leave it to everyone else to decide what they might mean.”
Source: Charlotte Observer
Vote for Chavi Vanna's live Coldplay review at Absolute Radio! (Click on the banner)
New photos of Coldplay at Rogers Centre, Toronto, ON (30th July 2009):
Pictures by Caroline Forest
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