Why in the hell is everybody and their ex-girlfriend so entranced by Chris Martin?
Is it his average good looks? His vanilla-flavored voice and songwriting? His flagrant narcissism? Why has our culture power-lifted the man and his borderline crappy band to Lou Reed of Soft Rock Piano Ballads-status?
And why does it prove that our culture is steadily slushing shallower and shallower?
Since breaking onto the international music scene with the release of the average song “Yellow” at the turn of the century, Coldplay have proven an incredible talent for producing songs which feature leading man Martin singing a drab falsetto, and videos which feature him walking, mostly. NME magazine compared his band to such famously average bands as Travis, Oasis, and The Verve, and even Radiohead (mistakenly, of course, as Radiohead is an awesome band), mostly because of their ability to couch sappy lyrics about everything being beautiful within boring piano melodies. If Thom Yorke is the squirmy, ugly dropout with ADD blinking frenetically in the front of the classroom, then Martin is the daydreaming goofball weighing every possible rhyme for the word, ‘you’ for his girlfriend in the back.
Most critics consider A Rush of Blood to the Head to be Coldplay’s greatest album thus far. They are correct — the songs border on listenable — though it’s really just the defining mix-tape for an entire generation seeking emotional highs to replace the lonely void in their hearts left by cheap substitutive media. A lyrical highlight from “The Scientist” reveals Martin’s impotent description of a break-up: "Nobody said it was easy / Oh it's such a shame for us to part / Nobody said it was easy / No one ever said it would be so hard."
Such a crime that the twenty thousand or so people at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City November 16th will probably never hear of Conor Oberst.
X&Y hit the airwaves and many critics conceded the possibility of a delayed sophomore slump. As Joe Tangari of Pitchfork magazine wrote in June 2005, the band’s “nice-guy charm, serviceable songwriting, and general inoffensiveness… aren’t the kind of traits that often lead to interesting music.” The album was written off as a so-so sequel to Parachutes. In the same month as Tangari, Jon Pareles of The New York Times labeled them “the most insufferable band of the decade,” and accused Martin of writing paradoxical songs that proudly proclaim his insecurity to the 40 million patrons of their albums throughout the world.
The real backbone of the band is their ability to create music that is simply too perfect. Sweeping violins and synthesizers, basic piano melodies, rhythm guitar, and drumbeats a monkey could maintain the sonic equivalent of a sterile operating room. “Yellow,” in particular is the prime sample of this idiot-proof take on music. Its basic progression from soft to loud and back and again for the entirety of the song is rather obnoxious. Without Martin’s singing, the music would actually qualify as decent, if only for a brief time before slipping into woeful repetition. Upon his arrival, things slide from manageable to narcissistic, with his crooning oohs and aahs, obnoxious dips in and out of falsetto, and unrequited desire to stare directly into the camera during every single one of their bloody music videos. Unrealistic and unbelievable lines like, “For you I’d bleed myself dry,” cement the band as just that; unrealistic and unbelievable.
As much as I want so badly to enjoy the simple beauty of their music, I can’t because I know the emotive quality to be completely fabricated.
This year’s release of Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends proved a campaign to appeal to an international audience marked by a world tour, a French cover art, songs like “Lovers in Japan,” “Cemetaries of London,” and “Chinese Sleep Chant,” and an overall Hispanic flavor. Rolling Stone contributor Will Hermes continues Tangari’s criticism that the band simply refuses to offend anybody by pursuing a branch of music that could drive a wedge through their now-worldwide listening audience. It’s like Chris Martin’s personal mission on earth is to make every human being like him.
Unfortunately it seems his mission may achieve resounding success. Their four albums have totaled up to a ridiculous 26 times platinum sales, X&Y and Viva la Vida each reached number one status in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France, Italy, Germany, and a host of other countries. With only four full-length albums, Coldplay has conquered the world employing meaningless wordplay, bland song structures, and performances glorifying their fictional vacillation.
We have only ourselves to blame.
We elevated a crew of smug, musing Brit pop soundtrack goons to the same rank as Radiohead, U2, and Pink Floyd. Their myriad, vapid, meaningless songs about a fictional woman named “You” fog the collective popular conscious, spewing forth from the mouths of adolescent girls and anybody who ever identified with the similar characters of Dawson’s Creek or Grey’s Anatomy. We have traded the solid, tangible, believable conviction Bob Dylan birthed for the seduction of Wal-Mart groupthink. If Chris Martin is rabid nationalism, Jeff Tweedy is Friedrich Nietzsche.
What does it mean then, that a single band’s music appeals so emphatically to country two-steppers in Dallas and businessmen in Osaka? Glimpses of global uniformity? Or perhaps that Coldplay is just a worldwide fad that, like NSYNC and Ricky Martin before them, will ultimately suffer death by obscurity?
I think they have left too deep a wound on culture’s international identity at this point to be forgotten in such a manner, however I certainly know that one day far off in the future, bands like Radiohead and Beck will be admired for originality while Coldplay will not be considered so differently from how Savage Garden is thought of now. Perhaps one day I will joyfully recline in my rocking chair (hovering, no doubt, as this will be not too far from the advent of the 22nd Century) and regale my grandchildren with stories from Wilco and Bright Eyes shows, while not a single one of them asks me if I ever listened to Chris Martin’s insipid cooing.