With this year's Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, Coldplay tried to be cool. They brought in Brian Eno to refine their bombast. They tried Bowie-style funk and shoegaze. They wore military duds that made them look like Arcade Fire, report Pitchfork.
Everything seemed to be in place. But there was a problem: Coldplay's idea of cool and the cultural reality are two different things. This eight-track stopgap EP-- which doubles as a bonus disc on the obligatory Viva fourth-quarter deluxe edition-- allows for an assessment of Coldplay's 2008 "We Are Edgy" campaign. Can one daffy Brit and his personality-averse band bring the notion of cool closer to them?
Ostensibly, Coldplay know cool when they see it. They tapped operatic indie-rockers Shearwater and L.E.S. revivalist Santogold to open their world tour this year. Chris Martin is friends with Kanye West and Jay-Z, who contributes a verse on the Prospekt's March remix, "Lost +". Still, they lack the spontaneity, innovation, and effortlessness that usually accompanies edge-cutting phenomena.
Take their recent performance on "Saturday Night Live": For a guy who's played to millions of fans at shows, festivals, and on TV, Martin came off like a clutzy ham not unlike former "SNL" mainstay Mary Katherine Gallagher. He was startlingly out of breath and made an effort to act out each of his simple couplets, all while yipping and hooting like a man poking fun at Tourette's syndrome. It was awkward, but kinda endearing. (Defamer: Coldplay's 'SNL' Freak-Out: Easy-Listening Performance Art, Awful, Or Both?)
So when calm and collected artists like Jay-Z cite Coldplay as their favorite band, they're subconsciously subverting the same untouchable aura that bolsters their own coolness. It makes little sense, but it's worked for them thus far. On the overall hipness scale, Coldplay isn't close to, say, TV on the Radio, but in a weird way they're bringing a bumbling DIY aesthetic to emotional arena rock. And, just as Viva did an admirable job of troubleshooting the band's lazy weaknesses while expanding their sound, Prospekt's March offers a truncated version of their svelte and marginally progressive new formula. If this is the best Big Rock has to offer this year, we're doing okay.
As far as money-making mini-releases go, Prospekt's March is relatively noble, i.e., no quickie dance remixes, only one "single edit" ("Lovers in Japan") and one piddly 48-second instrumental ("Postcards from Far Away"). All in all, half the EP is made up of completely new material that could've easily made the original Viva. Talking about the EP a couple months ago, Martin quipped that the new songs "might be considered too catchy or too heavy for Coldplay songs." The heavy Coldplay song may seem like an oxymoronic concept, but "Glass of Water" makes a good case for the band turning up the volume more often. Granted, the whole thing centers around one of the very few Meaning of Life clichés Martin has yet to utilize (bet you can't guess exactly how much water is in that glass!), but the hook's brash guitars render his words unintelligible anyway.
With Eno behind the knobs, everything sounds pristine, impeccable. "Prospekt's March/Poppyfields" could pass for a latter-day Radiohead ballad (except Martin replaces Thom Yorke's doom with hopeful pleads of "I don't wanna die"). With its micro-funk verse and symphony chorus, "Rainy Day" feels stiched together, but it's uniquely humble. "I love it when you come over to my house," sings Martin, taking a break from explaining death and all his friends for a moment. Mostly instrumental Viva intro "Life in Technicolor" is morphed into a full-fledged song here-- and it in turn exposes the main obstacle in the way of Coldplay's desire to replicate U2 at their height.
Simply: Chris Martin needs to consider his lyrics more. He's smart; he can do better than "don't you wish your life could be as simple as fish swimmin' 'round in a barrel when you've got the gun." While Bono hasn't written an astounding lyric in ages, there was a time when his universal maxims rang true and felt close. Martin has shown flashes of this type of talent, but his consistency isn't where it needs to be in order for Coldplay to elevate to the supreme stadium-filling, critic-salivating level they so desire. With their revised sound and twitching energy, these sensitive lads are primed for something even bigger than their current little-kid-in-a-big-arena shenanigans. A few elegant, cringe-proof words couldn't hurt.