I wouldn’t even bother writing about Coldplay’s latest record, but as the water of the music industry recedes, Viva la Vida has landed as a big fish in a little pond. Dave Allen exerted quite a bit of effort vilifying the record over at Pampelmoose, and while I don’t disagree with all of his points, I think his keyboard’s venom is at least partially misplaced. This is not a record review.
Rolling Stone calls Chris Martin “a Rock God.” Spin calls this record “A Rock Odyssey.” Pitchfork calls Coldplay “a rock band.” This is part of what Dave finds issue with.
Calling Coldplay “rock” is like saying that going grey makes one look “distinguished,” or that manual labor “builds character.” It’s ridiculous, but getting angry about it is just as ridiculous. It matters, and it doesn’t. The reason they’re not a “rock” band is because Chris Martin has done a poor job of manning up to the fame that’s been thrust upon him. He’s a reluctant cover boy. Following closely after The Eagles (proving once again that Rolling Stone is run by woefully out-of-touch white men whose average age makes them AARP-eligible), Chris Martin was recently on Rolling Stones‘ cover with the headline “Confessions of an Anxious Rock God.” Chris Martin can’t be a Rock God for the same reason that 50 Cent can’t be a Rap God: zero charisma. We don’t believe him. He’s not eccentric enough to be Thom Yorke, tortured enough to be Kurt Cobain, cool enough to be Dave Grohl, Charlie Brown enough to be Billy Corgan, cocksure enough to be Ian Brown, nor aloof enough to be Liam Gallager. Chris Martin doesn’t even rival Gavin Rossdale, and I’ve eaten tofu with more charisma than that guy.
Coldplay have been called “The Greatest Band in the World,” but unlike many of their British predecessors, they didn’t claim the title for themselves. They sound ten (sometimes fifteen) years behind: not mining sources from recently enough to be decried as rip-offs by the amnesic music media, but not from long enough ago to be considered retro chic. When the long-awaited second Stone Roses record came out in 1994, it was disparaged by critics and fans alike for being too transparent with regard to its influences. They said that guitarist John Squire had listened to Led Zepplin II a few too many times (at least The Verve had the decency to just sample their forebears outright on their one and only hit, “Bittersweet Symphony”). The thing was, in the five years since The Stone Roses’ previous record, the “Madchester” scene that spawned them had all but dissolved — especially where the American music media was concerned — and Oasis had taken over the zeitgeist and the airwaves.
“Hello, Kettle? It’s Pot…” You can’t simultaneously love one band for doing something and hate another for doing the same thing. If The Stones Roses were ripping off Led Zepplin, then what, exactly, was Oasis doing to The Beatles? If Coldplay is pretentious, what does that make Radiohead? If Coldplay is a parody of U2, what does that make U2? Has Chuck Klosterman delivered a verdict yet?
Pitchfork, whose relevance thankfully withers on the web, was not duped by the Eno Factor as Dave suggested. If anyone was duped by Eno’s involvement, it was Dave and I. In our defense, hearing that the new Coldplay record was produced by Brian Eno is like hearing that the new Tom Cruise movie was directed by Stanley Kubrick. Their collusion — as ill-fated as it might seem — sounds less like a train wreck and more like a train station. Music for Train Depots. Call it “Ears Wide Shut.”
Bottom line: Coldplay makes music for magazines.
Ever since hearing “Yellow,” I’ve thought of Coldplay as Catherine Wheel Jr. (“Black Metallic,” anyone?). With that and everything else said, I like Viva la Vida and will gladly put it on before I ever put on a U2 record, but you don’t need me to tell you that Coldplay doesn’t spin in the same solar system as Radiohead (or Talking Heads for that matter). Unfortunately, writing about writing about this record is more interesting than writing about this record, and I guess in the end that says it all.
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.
Editor of Boogie Down Predictions (Strange Attractor, 2022), author of Escape Philosophy (punctum, 2022) and Dead Precedents (Repeater, 2019).