BIAB: Coldplay

As I promised/threatened/cursed in the previous Because It’s A Blog entry, we’re going to go a lot more current than my normal eighties music fare this time around and feature some Coldplay. No, I’m feeling just fine, thanks for your concern. And I will readily admit, I am your classic grumpy old man in that I find nearly all current music to fall somewhere between “meh” and horrid talent-free pap, but honestly, I was/am that way about a good portion of eighties music too – every hair band was terrible, and Whitney Houston was a pox on anyone with ears. I could attempt to explain/rationalize this, but I’ll simply go with the idea that you’re most attuned to the stuff that you were hearing during adolescence and puberty and all that, which seems to be the favored sociological explanation.

Coldplay, however, is a band I’ll happily make an exception for, or perhaps offer some observation that they capture more of the salient properties of my preferred musical tastes. I’m not actually going to try to deconstruct it too much, because I haven’t put that much thought into it; right now, I’m simply going to introduce you to a few songs on the odd chance that you’ll get something out of them. Given that Coldplay is enjoying plenty of current popularity, it’s not that odd a chance, really.

My first introduction to them came from a TV commercial, of all things – quite strange because I never watch TV. But one of their songs was featured on an iTunes ad, I think, and I was intrigued by it. A little later on I caught it again on the radio (which receives as much attention from me as TV does,) and was hooked. That song, I eventually discovered, was “Viva La Vida,” and I want you to pay particular attention to the lyrics.

Viva La Vida – Coldplay

Interpreting the meaning of a song is generally a fool’s game, because it’s almost never correct, and on top of that I’ve actually read about it direct from the source – who were admittedly pretty vague despite the distinct religious references (more specifically, the christian bible.) Nonetheless, I tend to view it as the rise and fall of the holy roman empire and the influence of the catholic church, at one time executing their enemies with the power of their authority, and now struggling to maintain relevance while dismissing the frequent accusations of sexual impropriety and ethical misconduct. The lyrics are undeniably clever, especially

And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt, pillars of sand.

“Pillars of salt” being a clear reference to the fate of lot’s wife as they fled sodom and gomorrah, while “pillars of sand” being slightly less direct in calling back a lecture within the gospel of matthew – more than a little tongue-in-cheek too, since that passage makes the claim that following jesus is building a house upon the rock (strong) and not the sand, while any religion is based solely and entirely on hearsay, with virtually no application to the physical, demonstrable world; a house on sand, indeed.

All that aside, musically it’s a radical departure from drum machines and spoken or chanted lyrics, and The Girlfriend and I have spent some time puzzling out what’s actually within the string arrangement that forms most of the instrumentation. Meanwhile, Chris Martin’s vocals are dynamic and rich, a far cry from the narrow range of many artists now and past, and he uses his voice well against the instruments. A lot of attention was paid to the composition and studio mixing, and it shows.

That song was enough to intrigue me, but I’ve been burned before on thinking that a single song was enough to validate a band or album (haven’t we all?) and didn’t really pursue it in the normal way, like seeking out other songs by the act to see if they compare; instead I just kind of kept it in the back of my head. Some time later, I came across the next in a haphazard way: I think a clip of it, or something trying to sound like it, was included on my new flip-phone as a ringtone, which I assigned to The Girlfriend’s number, eventually hearing it at random as the song itself. Soon afterward, a friend of mine (hearing the ringtone) remarked at it being a favorite of his, partially because of its own merits, and partially because his daughter played lead on the song when her school band did a recital. I guess I should have warned you how sordid this tale was going to get. But here’s “Clocks” anyway…

Clocks – Coldplay

No, I’m not even trying to interpret those lyrics, and in fact, I’ll only attempt to sing them when no one else can hear (the podcasting is bad enough.) Martin’s voice seems a little strained for this set, and makes me wonder when the studio recording fell (like, during a tour, or maybe after a drive through a construction zone on an interstate,) but again, the range works well, and the song plays out like a drama, building intensity and dropping off, not relying on a riff or much of a formula. Occasionally, an act comes out that demonstrates that cookie-cutter musical trends are not what listeners are really fond of, breaking genre and becoming immensely popular, and Coldplay seems to fit into that category. On top of that, they seem to like experimenting with different sounds and mixing in lots of varied instruments, which isn’t hard, really; the hard part is doing it so well and so seamlessly.

Convinced now, I started seeking out more songs by the band, and pretty soon settled on the next as my favorite – wonderfully rich, energetic, and dramatic. The trend, starting in the nineties, towards lyrics that were little more than spoken rankled me – I’m motivated by people who can vocalize, and can get behind a singer with great tone even if I can’t understand what they’re saying, which is exemplified by the bridge herein (the lyrics can be found here if you’d prefer to know.)

Every Teardrop is a Waterfall – Coldplay

By the way, if you’re already familiar with the song, then perhaps you should check out this version for a change of pace (which is quite likely to lead down a rabbit hole all its own.)

As an interesting (or not) bit of trivia, I now associate this song (Coldplay’s version, mind you) with the film Guardians of the Galaxy, not because it was in the soundtrack or even close – the soundtrack was largely hits from the seventies – but because it began playing on the car stereo as I was on my way to the theater, ending just as I arrived, and seemed to set the mood. Since it was an MP3 file, I hit it to repeat and play on my way home too.

Now, I said above that it was my favorite, and this lasted for a while until that aforementioned friend pointed me towards another that I’d somehow missed, which didn’t immediately strike me as strongly but grew quickly, and has now supplanted ‘Every Teardrop.’

[You might want to drop the volume a little for this one – the version I uploaded is a bit high.]

Charlie Brown – Coldplay

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve departed from the standard rock instrumental lineup with this one as well, and if you can interpret what’s actually being used in there, more power to you. As I was writing this post, it struck me that Coldplay almost seems to compose at least some of their music more like screenplays, with ‘acts’ that change the mood and tempo, while still remaining in the classic structure (lyrics, chorus, lyrics, chorus, bridge, chorus) of popular music, the songs becoming more eclectic and varied while not departing the genre, and this might prove to be a great formula, at least until it becomes overused. Or maybe I’m wrong, but whatever – I approve.

More useless trivia: I had been interpreting the final line incorrectly for some time, until I saw the lyrics feeding automatically through my Linux MP3 player. It is normal to believe that by this time, I had settled in on my version so well that I disliked the actual lyric, but there’s more to it than that: mine was actually much better. So I wrote to Chris Martin and told him about it and, remarkably, he agreed, and is incorporating my own into all concert performances from this point on. However, only if they’re not recorded, so I don’t have to be paid any royalties at all for this contribution. Understandably, I have mixed feelings about this.*

bumper sticker I need to findDon’t get the impression that I’m disregarding other songs that have perhaps charted better, like, “A Sky Full of Stars,” or their duet with The Chainsmokers, “Something Just Like This,” which are also powerful songs; I’m featuring this lineup both because they’re my favorites, and because not everyone has necessarily been exposed to them. But yes, a little bit of current (more or less) music sneaks into my playlists, as long as it works pretty well – yet listening to any radio station for longer than a few minutes manages to piss me off significantly. So I’m still maintaining my curmudgeonly status.

Next up, most likely, we’re going to go even further back to the seventies with a soundtrack. I know you’re excited about that.

* This is not true at all. Actually, he told me to fuck off diagonally and never contact him again.**

** Also not true – I never contacted him in any way. But I should, now that I’m prepared for all consequences.***

*** Now this is getting a bit confusing. After typing all that above, I found a link (actually, several) that showed the lyrics exactly as I had them in my mind – and one completely different version. I actually have no idea what source my player uses for the lyrics, but there’s an ‘Edit Lyrics’ function built into the console, which fills me full of confidence. So, you know? Use whatever you like – I’m not counting anything as ‘official.’