I’m not going to be buying the latest Coldplay album Mylo Xyloto – people who know me are acutely aware that I have always hated the band. A simple mention of the name would fill my head with a flurry of negative thoughts and associated neural networks would ignite helping me develop my own imaginary “Coldplay” who neatly encompassed everything which was wrong with music, or anything else ever. This grew and festered until I realised that I was mentally filing almost every negative aspect I could attribute to a band in the drawer marked ‘Coldplay’ in my brain. After a quick argument with a fan, I decided it was time I challenged my impression via a listening session.
Was the real Coldplay anywhere near as bad as my mental one?
I’ve voluntarily subjected myself to the Coldplay albums that are available on Spotify and given a recommendation for haters on a track from each one, which is definitely worth your time, even if you never intend to listen to anything else by them again. Go on; challenge yourself, it’s quite fun even if it won’t change your mind.
To begin with however, I needed to find out how I’d created my interpretation of Coldplay. As I read this article on the Sun’s website, I tried to remember the times when I had come across the band’s music and it had been awful enough to deserve the sour taste it always gave me. I couldn’t think of a single one, and the fact that Brian Eno himself had blessed their acclaimed album “Viva La Vida or Death and All his Friends” (aka VLVODAAHF) with his magic touch was an incentive to give them a second chance. Looking at what was said about this album, you’d be forgiven for assuming it must be a preview to the second coming of a messiah.
The troubling thing in my mind was, despite my own opinion that almost everything I’d heard from them was bland pop garbage, their legions of fans, not to mention the chart success that rains down on them at every album release was giving me some unsettling thoughts. To me, it appeared as though they had been given a special license to release bland music to critical acclaim simply due to their commercial achievement and domination of their middle-of-the-road niche in the market. With the new album being released, I knew I had to either find a way to like Coldplay finally, or again endure the endless repetition of “that band” being shoved down my ear holes by music advertisers and radio DJs.
So it was with this in mind that I attempted to circumvent my own scruples and I settled in to give myself an enormous first dose of Chris martin and co.’s contribution to British popular culture. I’ll admit, I’m not enormously familiar with their work outside of the singles, is there anyone who can’t sing at least a chorus from “Yellow”?, but in my defence, my mental Coldplay block sapped me of any motivation to investigate their work further.
I honestly didn’t expect to write this sentence, but I was pleasantly surprised. To be fair, it would have been difficult for any band to truly live up to my impression of this one, but still I have proved myself slightly wrong. Amongst Coldplay’s earlier work, on a first listen, I felt an energy that I’d never connected to the band before. The track ‘High Speed’ on their debut album “Parachutes” immediately stood out as more interesting to me. The gentle electronic noises during the verses give the whole track a slight feeling of airiness, but coupled with a heavy, dragging drum part which grounds the whole thing, and give the dynamic swells towards the chorus some real balls.
On a first listen, I suspected that the track ‘A whisper’ would be my recommendation from their second album “A rush of blood to the head” but I’ve found I keep coming back to listen to “Daylight” so I’ll go with that. The odd and slightly uncanny string line, which leads to a sudden drop in the track, is what’s got me hooked for a reason I can’t explain right now (might come back to that in a later post).
I struggled to find a track I could honestly recommend for the purposes of this article from the next album X & Y. In my own humble opinion, just avoid the entire thing for the sake of your own sanity. However, in the interests of doing a good job here, I tentatively pick out the hidden track, “till kingdom come,” which was listed as “+” on the original disc label according to Wikipedia. The wiki article also says that this track was originally planned to feature Johnny Cash, which would have made a nice dilution to the concentrated Coldplay I’ve received over the writing of this.
For entirely the opposite reason to the last paragraph, I had a similar difficulty with VLVODAAHF; finding one track I could recommend. If you forced my hand, it’d be the final track, “Death and all his Friends” which has the bonus of featuring a hidden song “The Escapist” as the final paragraph in the album’s story. In all honesty, if I’ve convinced you that there is some good to be found no matter how much you previously thought you hated the band, I recommend listening to the entire thing. I know it sounds like a big ask to a non-fan of any band but, there are too many interesting sections, charming instrumentals and beguiling recording techniques that permeate the entire work. I’m not saying I love every track, individually they do nothing for me, but taken as a whole, this album has got something to offer everybody. It’s just well hidden in some cases.
Has my entire opinion of Coldplay been changed by attempting this? No, and I never expected it to. Nevertheless, I think it’s always a worthwhile activity to attempt to challenge your own opinions and see what you learn.
As an interesting aside, researchers at Columbia University have studied what makes music popular – and in particular their studies show why people have a tendency to look back on music they used to like and, with the benefit of time, they see it in all its unglory. They used a fake music website, where users could download and rate songs and the most popular ones would rise to the top of the list. They reset the experiment and did it again, finally ending up with results from 13,000 people. After prodding and poking the participants in interesting ways, the study points towards popular music as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people think a song is popular, they’ll go out and buy it, sending it up the charts and so the cycle repeats.
There were some songs in their study that were favoured or shunned no matter what – this strange phenomenon only seemed to apply if a song was mediocre. This also explains why repeating my own little self experiment with an “artist” such as “The Wanted” would fail. So I guess it remains to see whether or not 10 years from now we’ll all be standing around laughing at ourselves in 2011 liking Coldplay’s music or not. I have a sneaky suspicion that no matter what happens in 2021, there’ll probably be someone covering “Yellow”.