Monday, 23 June 2008
sweep the streets that I used to own....
Even though the singles charts are probably of no more than a passing interest to anyone and are clearly no longer worth the paper they're not printed on, I have to admit that I smiled then I saw this week's number one record: "Viva La Vida" by Coldplay.
I smiled for a couple of reasons really. Firstly because somehow it's the embodiment of the seismic changes happening to the music industry at the moment: here we have a song topping the singles chart that has not actually been released as a single, is not available in any shops or any any other form except download. Hell, it wasn't even the band's choice - they decided to release (er....give away... ) "Violet Hill" as the lead off track from their new album instead. Nope, it's been chosen from the album by the good people of the general public, who have voted with their mouse-clicking fingers and who have downloaded the song in their droves, thus making it Coldplay's first number one single. The second reason, of course, is that I have an enduring love of Coldplay that I have waxed on about here many times.
I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I simply don't understand why people seem to hate Coldplay so much. If you say that they are bland, that the lyrics are crap, that they are wet, that they are so worthy and liberal it makes you want to cry... well, that's fine. I don't much like Westlife or Daniel O'Donnell either. I don't buy their records and I try my best to avoid them, which isn't really that hard. Each to their own, right? I certainly don't waste any energy on hating them. What would be the point? I'm largely indifferent to them. For me, that's a more understandable reaction to a band you don't really like. Indifference, in the main, is fine - Coldplay have sold millions of records worldwide, but there must also be untold billions of other people who have either never heard of them or who simply don't care about them. Fine. What I don't get is the people who take this further and somehow make out that Coldplay in general, and Chris Martin specifically are worthy of hatred. These people seem to dislike what they take Coldplay to represent as much as the actual musicians themselves. Chris Martin might be a sap who has given his kids slightly quirky names, but is that enough of a reason to hate someone? It's all a matter of opinion, but he generally seems like a nice enough guy to me. He's concerned about the environment and about the people who are starving in the world and he seems to be doing the best he can to lead as normal a life as he can given that he's one of the biggest rock stars in the world and is married to an Oscar winning actress. Yet he seems to be hated in an almost abstract way for what he represents, and without any specific reference to any crimes he might have committed. You might not like "X&Y", but Coldplay aren't quite Milli Vanilli are they?
Coldplay's music touches me, and although I often think that some of the lyrics are a bit crap, I like them and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Recently though, I've taken to defending them in some weird places. I was reading a column written by the English rugby player, James Haskell, the other day. The week before, Haskell, a hulking great big back row forward, had mentioned in passing that he liked Coldplay. The following week, the comments on the blog post were filled with smart-arses taking the piss out of him and out of the band. I couldn't help myself: I waded in. It was as if liking Coldplay was somehow inappropriate for a big, tough man like Haskell, and that admitting that he listened to them was tantamount to saying he was soft. Rubbish. For all we know, Richie McCaw, the All Blacks captain, listens to Katie Melua and the tellytubbies, for heaven's sake. Obviously, I was on a hiding to nothing.
One of the posters on that blog linked to this article in the Independent: "Why I Hate Coldplay" by Andy Gill.
"The strange thing is, I can't seem to find anyone who bought X & Y, or who intends to buy Viva La Vida. For that matter, I have never encountered one person who has a kind word to say about Coldplay. None of my personal or professional acquaintances, nobody in the street or the local café, not a single soul will admit to liking Coldplay or purchasing their music. Indeed, most seem to agree that they epitomise everything that's wrong with modern rock music. So who's buying all their albums? Who are those masses politely arrayed in their thousands at stadiums when Coldplay play? Is it some secret society, an Opus Dei of dreary anthemic music? And where do they congregate, other than at stadiums and arenas? Do they have parties? And if so, how many slash their wrists at these parties? What's the attrition rate?.....Their music sounds like Radiohead with all the spiky, difficult, interesting bits boiled out of it, resulting in something with the sonic consistency of wilted spinach; it retains the crowd-pleasing hooks and singalong choruses while dispensing with the more challenging, dissonant aspects and sudden, 90-degree shifts in direction."
Oh, so Coldplay aren't Radiohead and that's their major crime? Well, how many bands are Radiohead exactly? And by the way, how many people would rather listen to anything Coldplay have done than listen to "Kid A" or "Amnesiac"? Honestly? I admire Radiohead but listen to Coldplay an awful lot more often.
Not content at stopping there, Gill widens his focus to some other bands that are apparently as much disliked as they are loved:
"In this respect, the band's name is one of the most appropriate in rock. It's redolent of pale complexions and dead emotions: whenever I hear it, it always evokes a glassy-eyed fish on a fishmonger's slab, ice melting from its scales. Ironically, it was coined by Tim Rice-Oxley, who had stopped using it for his own band as he considered it "too depressing". Rice-Oxley was apparently invited to join Coldplay, but instead chose Keane, which suggests a serious frying pan/fire interface. Still, at least it wasn't Snow Patrol or Athlete, the weediest of the Coldplay copyists trailing in the band's wake."
Oh yeah, yeah.... have a crack at some more easy targets who sell records, why don't you? Not content with this lazy swipe, he then has a crack at Martin's family... a cheap punch to the guts:
"On another, possibly longer, list, there's plenty more to dislike about Coldplay – most of it, admittedly, concerning Chris Martin, the world's least impressive rock star by virtually any criteria connected with rock'n'roll as we know it. There's the celebrity-spouse syndrome that casts Chris 'n' Gwynnie as the scented-candle, low-fibre equivalent of Brad 'n' Ange; the scrubby non-beard that Chris Martin shares with Jensen Button (have you ever seen the two of them together in the same place?); calling a child Apple, rather than, say, Veal (far tastier, and less likely to get bullied at school); and much more besides."
Given that Martin and Paltrow seem to go out of their way to avoid being seen together and to take part in celebrity culture, that seems like an especially cheap shot to me. Still, I'm sure lots of people find that kind of stuff amusing. I just thought that it was a cheap and lazy piece of journalism and it was unedifying to see a musician and critic like Andy Gill stoop so low. He almost sounds jealous. It's not as though Coldplay are claiming to be as influential as Gang of Four, is it? Besides, I'm not sure a man who has produced a record by the Red Hot Chili Peppers is really in any position to criticise Coldplay as representing all that's bad in modern rock music. [ST's addendum: OK, so it's not *that* Andy Gill. Mea culpa and thanks to Eloi for picking up on it and pointing it out. Apologies to Andy Gill the musician and producer. My basic point remains though: it is a horrible article full of cheap shots by Andy Gill the journalist]
Even the BBC is at it. They've just hosted a whole "Coldplay at the BBC" thing (available here for another couple of days), but even they couldn't resist spinning one story. Apparently Chris Martin "stormed out" of an interview on Radio 4's "Front Row". Well, that's putting it a bit strong, to be honest. Go and listen to the clip for yourself here. There's not a whole lot of "storming" going on at all there. In fact, Martin actually asks the interviewer - a touch apologetically - if it's okay if he steps outside as he's not really enjoying the interview very much. When the interviewer then asks the drummer, Will Champion, if he thinks he has upset him, Champion comes back with the fantastically polite, but patently untrue, "No, no. I don't think so". It's a very British kind of a storming out. Not very rock and roll, anyway.... but that's no doubt part of the reason people hate them.
I'm a bit tired of it, to be honest. You may well disagree, but I like my rock stars to be a bit more questioning, awkward and unsure like Chris Martin and a lot less posturing, boastful and Neanderthal than people like Liam Gallagher. Christ, he's less annoying than Bono, surely? People are entitled to their opinions, of course, and feel free to have a crack at Coldplay all you like..... just don't accuse them of being lazy, wishy-washy and unimaginative in a lazy, wishy-washy or unimaginative way. Well, don't do it without a sense of irony, anyway.
If you want to have a crack at Mick Hucknall though, please be my guest.....