The Problem With Coldplay is Chris Martin

by Richard P. Winslow

Team Coldplay is celebrating a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 this week with their co-opted song “My Universe”.  Co-written with the Korean boy-band BTS, “My Universe” it is a saccharine sweet pop song that is so sugary it makes your musical teeth hurt, rot, and fall out of your head, all within the 3 minutes, 46 seconds it takes to grimacingly listen to the song. 

But should Coldplay be celebrating this achievement?  No way.  The irony of this No. 1 hit song is that it signals the death knell for a once truly great band.  Coldplay, or as I recently referred to them on a Facebook post, LamePlay, has been relegated to the minor leagues (or the Championship league depending upon which side of the pond you are on) of rock/pop song writing.  “My Universe” heralds the confirmed selling out of a band that once captured the collective musical imaginations of millions around the globe.  Since 2012’s release of Mylo Xyloto, the band’s collective musical taste has moved from one that captured the musical imaginations of fans world-wide, to the desperate pairing of themselves with a Korean boy band in order to stay relevant. 

And, oh, by the way, it’s all Chris Martin’s fault.

In the beginning, there were four young lads from London who formed a band after meeting in college.  Their sound was fresh, vulnerable, captivating, and even courageous at a time when Grunge was still dominating the musical landscape; here was a band that matched melody with harmonies…and imagine this, their lead singer played a Charlie Brown sort of piano on the front half of the stage.  They were self-deprecating, honest, a bit naïve about the world of fame, and they were good live.  Chris Martin has always been the face of the band, which is not surprising.  He was engaging, kind, captivating in a sort-of nerdy kind of way, and we fell for his boyish looks, which were refreshing because they weren’t exactly Jon Bon Jovi-esque. 

As the primary song writer for Coldplay, Martin has been the wizard behind the Coldplay curtain, pulling the levers of the music writing process.  And for many years, he was at the top of his creative game, as their first four albums were all lauded for their anthem-like melodies, their risk taking, and original direction.  But over the last eight years, Coldplay’s inexorable slide (led by Martin) towards soppy sweet candy floss pop and neon colored everything has had consequences.  And quite frankly, Coldplay’s own original fans are the ones who have walked away.   

This chart tells the story of Coldplay’s collapse.  Viva La Vida was its last quality album, thanks in large part to Brian Eno challenging them to think about music differently.  It was also the last album to capture the once-unique Coldplay sound.  Every album since Mylo Xyloto has been a slow, but steady slide towards pop obscurity.  Now, in all fairness, album sales should not be the sole indicator of a band’s success or lack of success.  Critical reviews are important too and should be viewed as a meta-analysis of the quality of a band’s music.  Similar to album sales, Coldplay’s album reviews have been declining since 2014, as well. 

But the most important fact about Coldplay’s demise is that their fans have been slowly walking away for years now.  Fans that bought 16 million copies of Parachutes, 20 million copies of A Rush of Blood to the Head, and 17 million copies of X&Y.  Those fans had and in some cases still have a musical expectation that Coldplay is better than what they are today…and we have been waiting for the band to return to their true pre-2014 form.  It is Martin, as the musical mastermind, that has drifted away from Coldplay fans and led the band in a direction that fewer and fewer of those original fans want to hear.  No one is listening anymore, except, of course, teeny-bopper BTS fans.  In an article in the online magazine Nylon, Anne T. Donahue sadly labels the band as “…safe dad music…”, and she wasn’t making fun.  She was genuinely expressing what many Coldplay fans feel, which is the significant loss of a great band.    

So what did happen to Chris Martin?  Quite simply, Martin began to believe his own press releases.  As his star power began to shine more and more brightly, Martin fell into the trap of believing that he was as good a musician and song writer as we had made him out to be.  At the same time he married Gwyneth Paltrow, someone who literally grew up in Hollywood and whose actor/producer parents showered her with anything and everything she ever wanted.  She was also infamously known for saying, “I am who I am.  I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year…” And with that move, Martin went from self-deprecating rock front man to in-denial, self-absorbed rock star, whose musical taste shifted from risky song writer to “how can I make my next mega paycheck hit”.  And Martin’s enablers (the rest of the band) happily followed.  The C. Martin album formula is simple:  1) Write 9 or 10 pop songs with catchy hooks and no depth;  2) Write two songs that require a collaboration with Beyonce, BTS, Jay-Z, Tove Lo, or Rhianna, so that they can ride the backs of other, more relevant artists. Place it in the oven at 350 degrees, and bake.  Voila…we have a Coldplay album on par with any of the last three. 

Put simply, Chris Martin believes that if he writes anything, we will buy it, because he is famous. 

Have you read the lyrics to “My Universe”?  “You, you are my universe.  And I just want to put you first.  And you, you are my universe, and I…”  You get the idea.  These lyrics are a far cry from “Sparks” or “Shiver” and the music not anywhere close to the complexities and layers of “42”. 

I saw Coldplay live for the first time on February 4, 2003, at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas.  And by the end of the show I was convinced they were the real deal.  The setlist that night covered both Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head and convinced me that not only did they have the magic musically, they had the magic to capture an audience live and in person.  Unfortunately, Chris Martin and his bandmates simply disappoint today. 

Some would say that I am the problem because my expectations, emotionally, are that Coldplay evolve as a band in a direction that takes them backwards.  Chris Martin has made similar points in several interviews about not looking back, but forward.  On some level that might be true.  We all can imagine loving some band’s music so much that when they can no longer create that sound any longer we anguish.  I desperately want Coldplay to take me back to Memorial Hall in 2003, not because I want to relive those days of my life, but because they made music that was sincere, real, and lived on a precarious creative edge.  Instead they have taken me to a place where I can no longer claim to be a fan.  It’s a place of easy, cookie cutter, riskless music.  And that is disappointing. 

Fame is a dual-edged sword.  For Martin, the rise to stardom came on the backs of songs like “The Scientist”, “Clocks”, and “Fix You”.  Unfortunately for him, his infamy has come on the backs of songs like “Higher Power”, “My Universe”, and “Orphans”.  In my estimation, there is no comparison between the two groups of songs.  What I can admit publicly now is that I was a Coldplay fan…but am no more.  And, Chris Martin, if you are out there and happen to be reading some randomly obscure music fan blog from Kansas City, I blame you…and myself. 

Richard Winslow is a music fan, father or four boys, wanna-be guitar player, friend of Arlin Bartels, and medical educator who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. He is married to a woman who is much smarter than he.

Album Review: Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack

 

Painting of a Panic Attack

With every Frightened Rabbit album, their sound becomes bigger and more emotional and that’s the case again on fifth studio album Painting of a Panic Attack. But Scott Hutchison’s lyrics and vocals stop it becoming just another “Big Music” album. Not that there’s anything wrong with Big Music, but there’s already plenty of bands doing that and doing it very well. The lyrics are personal, there’s no grand themes here, despite the sound of the album. They’re perhaps a bit more positive than on previous albums, but there’s still enough grim reality to keep it Frightened Rabbit. One of the best aspects of the album is when those negative lyrics are set to the most anthemic sounding songs.

The opening song on the album is one of the stand-outs; Death Dream starts out forlorn with mainly just piano, then it builds gradually with layered vocals, a unique guitar sound, strings, and some Beirut style horns, until it reaches a stunning but understated crescendo. The strings and horns return to even greater effect later on Little Drum.

The second track is single Get Out, where the abruptness of the chorus comes as a bit of a shock first time, but after the second listen makes sense. It’s one of the more positive songs on the album, a love song, but not that you’d know it on first listen.

The best examples of the anthemic songs with a sombre message are the “twin” tracks I Wish I Was Sober and Woke Up Hurting, whose titles speak for themselves. Then there’s the positive stories, but with a twist of course, like Still Want To Be Here (“Fuck these faceless homes and everyone who lives in them, But I still want to be here, want to be here”) and the hilariously backhanded compliment An Otherwise Disappointing Life.

Another stand-out is 400 Bones; not your conventional love song, but lyrically beautiful (“This is my safe house in the hurricane, here is where my love lays 200 treasured bones”).

Break and Blood Under the Bridge are probably as close to pop as the album gets, both are very melodic and radio friendly (musically at least).

The album ends with Die Like a Rich Boy -a suitably grim ending for a classic Frightened Rabbit album.

(There’s a deluxe version of the album with three extra tracks, which are all excellent and make it worth getting the more expensive download or any of the physical formats.)

Gig Review – CHVRCHES – Glasgow – 2 April 2016

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Remarkably, Chvrches hadn’t played their home town since 2014 (they’ve been too busy literally touring the world). Back home for one night only, they played at the massive Hydro arena, which goes to show the meteoric rise in their popularity in a few short years. Though Chvrches may be only a few years old, the three band members have been around the business a long time and singer Lauren Mayberry makes a point during the show of rhyming off the many bands they’ve been part of over the years with varying degrees of success.

Supported by Shura and The Twilight Sad (a past band of Martin from Chvrches) the crowd were well warmed up for the arrival of Chvrches.

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Never Ending Circles opens the show with its massive riff. For a brief moment when Lauren starts to sing it sounds like her voice might get lost in the cavern of a place but from the second line in she is belting it out and it stays that way for the rest of the show. She barely put a foot wrong, other than clattering the stage with the mic during Science/Visions.

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They promise new songs and old songs, meaning songs from their first album The Bones of What You Believe and songs from their second album Every Open Eye. We hear the majority of both albums, and both are as well received as each other. The crowd are up for it, but really come alive on Tether, a highlight from their first album and stand-out song of the night for me. The song was just made to be played in a massive arena like this and the guitar just makes it soar – although they are really an electronic band, I would love to hear them make more use of guitars in future.

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Straight after Tether is an excellent extended version of Playing Dead with Lauren on drums, ending with her lying on the stage, from where she starts Science/Visions. Martin takes over on lead vocals a couple of songs later and I’m surprised how much he gets the crowd going, especially on Under the Tide, where we get a mass sing-along. He even gives a shout out the to guy in the crowd who is “taps aff” – the Glasgow phrase for being shirtless.

The main set ends with second album highlight Clearest Blue and the place is literally bouncing. For the encore we get the beautiful Afterglow and another mass sing-along on The Mother We Share.

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An excellent show all round, from Chvrches and the support. There is also a refreshing lack of cameras on show, although the downside of this is a lack of quality video footage. I’ve found a couple of decent ones though, so enjoy:

Tether

The Mother We Share 

Set List

Never Ending Circles
We Sink
Keep You on My Side
Make Them Gold
Empty Threat
Tether
Playing Dead
Science/Visions
Gun
Bury It
High Enough To Carry You Over
Under the Tide
Recover
Leave a Trace
Clearest Blue

Encore:
Afterglow
The Mother We Share

Crowd photo from Chvrches Facebook page. All other photos my own. 

 

 

The 10 Best Albums of 2015

 


 

1. Chvrches – Every Open Eye

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I had a feeling Chvrches could do a pop album and remain a bona fide electronic band, but I had no idea they could do it this brilliantly. It’s still unmistakably Chvrches but catchier, more melodic, vocally superior and bolder than their debut. BTW, they’re from Glasgow, but I’m not biased!


 

2. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

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A very close second to Chvrches, Waxahatchee’s third album is much more accomplished than the first two, but without losing any of the indie charm. 

 

 


 

3. Thomas Kercheval – We Were Here

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Every genre of rock imaginable (classic, folk, alternative, to name a few) all performed and produced by multi talented, multi instrumentalist Tom Kercheval. And proceeds go to charity, so buy it people!


 

4. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

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Not the world’s best guitarist or vocalist, but her style suits her songwriting perfectly. This isn’t your usual singer/songwriter stuff though, it’s proper rock n’ roll.

 


 

5. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

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Normally a 90 minute album described as a ‘rock opera’ would have me reaching for the eject button, but this is tremendous. More of a punk/folk/rock opera though.

 


 

6. The Orb – Moon Building 2703 AD

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After the relative disappointment of The Orb’s last album, this was a real surprise return to form. There’s only 4 tracks but as you would expect from The Orb, the tracks average about 13 minutes each! 


 

7.Aaron Weight – Flying Machine

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An album full of great melodies. For a relative unknown it’s impressive that it features a duet with Laura Cantrell, and equally impressive that Shaun Williamson appears in the video for Proper Chronic Lonely.


 

8. Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

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‘Concept album’ is another term that would make me reach for the eject button. Not this time though as Public Service Broadcasting bring us this brilliantly atmospheric album about the 60s and 70s space travel heyday.


 

9. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

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Another 90 minute album on the list and this one is epic. The best Iron Maiden album for many years.


 

10. Best Girl Athlete – Carve Every Word

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I’m always wary of the ‘next big thing’ tag and when I first heard these songs in acoustic form I was a bit underwhelmed. But when I heard the fully produced album I realised what all the fuss was about.

 

 

 


See you in 2016 folks!

Go See a Show!

If you care at all about music, go to a live show.  In almost every case the live show is better than the recording.  The few exceptions are bands you don’t like anyway.  In today’s music business the live shows are the only way most bands can make any significant money to keep playing.  Streaming, iTunes, etc pay so little that you might as well be stealing the music.  While you’re there, buy the band’s CD/LP directly from them.  If you buy their CD for $10 at the show, they get $10.  Buy it on Amazon and they’ll get $1 at most.  Get out of the house!  See a show!  They have beer at the club!