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.....


  1. I shan't accuse them of being wishy-washy. By forbidding it, you're implicitly admitting you know they are. But "concerned about the environment" : That's just a steaming pile of coldplay

    And despite "married to an oscar winning actress", why are his songs still as miserable as sin?

    The difference between Westlife and Coldplay is that Westlife don't pretend to be a band, just a pop vocal group. Coldplay pretend to be something more, but they're not. I don't much like Westlife, but at least they're honest.

    ( Free downloads can't count towards the charts, so that's why Violet Hill never made it.)

  2. I really like them also.

    Hear hear.

    I still think the National are a load of old toss, though, which apparently puts me in a minority of one.

    (Although I do own three Westlife albums.)

  3. Ian - I didn't say they were perfect, and most importantly I think Chris Martin would probably be one of the last people on earth to think that he was. No matter how much other people hate him, I'm not sure that he doesn't hate and question himself more. Also, I didn't 'forbid' you from saying they were wishy-washy, I just said don't do it in a wishy-washy way.

    You're kind of proving my point - pick holes at him all you want, I just don't get why you're wasting the energy.

    And LB - 2 or 3 people on this blog saying they like the National is hardly the whole world, is it!? You'd think they'd sell more records if you were in the minority by not liking them!

    Westlife? I'm indifferent to them.


  4. (I'll accept that my "concerned about the environment" statement is clearly a steaming pile of Coldplay though. That much is abundantly true)

  5. Um, if you're going to pick fights with people, check your facts. Andy Gill who writes for The Independent is not Andy Gill who founded Gang of Four and produced the Chili Peppers.

  6. Because Coldplay are fake. They stand for nothing, and they mean nothing, and it irritates me to see such fraudulent scoundrels get away with it.

    I like the National.

  7. Eloi does have a point I'm afraid! Hey we all make mistakes! But Gill's piece is classic cheap shot marmite opinion journalism: either you roar with agreement or disgust. Either way you pick it up and respond. So I guess it worked on that score!

    Anyway, mistaken identity or not, the gist of your post is still bang on though. I really don't get the animosity vented in their direction. It almost seems to be an indignant rage that they aren't either rock n roll monsters or avant garde revolutionaries. The best comparison is probably Wings. A band despised by the critics and "serious" music fans, but who sold shitloads of records and hogged the charts and the radio. Because they wrote big popular anthems that, shock horror, people seem to relate to and enjoy. Neither band chuck tellys through windows or take heroin. So they're fake.

    Except they're just pop musicians writing and recording music. That people then buy. What's fake is this absurd outsider rebel status given to recording artists who are anything but. Rock music has not, and will not, change the world. The great rock n roll myth is horseshit, peddled by critics desperate for a slice of immortality.

    Coldplay are not a huge creative force, and I doubt they ever will be. Kid A is actually my favourite Radiohead album, and I like a lot of experimental music. But that's not what I go to Coldplay for. I want huge stadium sized anthems, that I can hum along to (something Radiohead used to do but now seem to consider a bit too, y'know, obvious). Huge emotional brushstrokes that are as inclusive as they are vague. That might not be your cup of tea, but slagging off fans who like it is just monumental snobbery. Gosh. I bet they watch soaps and eat crisps too.

    I like Coldplay. I like Wings. I also like Atari Teenage Riot and Bikini Kill and My Bloody Valentine and Girls Aloud and Fleetwood Mac and Ornette Coleman. It's just pop music. You pick the bits you like.

    Keane are shit though.

  8. My apologies to Andy Gill, formerly of Gang of Four and producer of the first Red Hot Chili Peppers album... my annoyance is reserved purely for Andy Gill the music critic. Well spotted Eloi and thanks for pointing it out, but the essential point remains.

  9. Isn't the "storming out" of Chris Martin a lot like what happened when they "edited" the programme about the Queen to sound as though she stormed out?

    I find it unreal about the way it was reported and the way it actually was, which for the entertainment industry, seems to be par for the course these days.

    And me personally, Coldplay are just a band. Like Marmite, you either hate 'em or love 'em. I like 'em: to me they are just a band, regardless of who the lead singer is married to, or what they call their kids.

    And I don't like Marmite

  10. Mick Hucknall - great voice, legendary lover of the laydeez, owns half of Manchester - and allegedly everyone hates him because he's an ugly little fucker and should hide away in whatever godforesaken corner of the North West he comes from. I'm a fan - he's been known to display some passion in his music, which is what I feel personally is lacking from Coldplay. But it is only rock and roll, and we're all entitled to our own views.

  11. Regardless of which Andy Gill is at issue, I too think that Coldplay doesn't deserve to be the band the world loves to hate.

    I don't think there's any reason to HATE Coldplay, and I would (and do) choose to listen to their albums over Radiohead.

  12. Slag off The National?! Why I oughta...!

    Heeheehee. Wimpy indie fight! I'll scuff your limited edition coloured 7 inches! I'll put your NMEs back in the wrong order! I'll yank your skinny tie really hard so it turns into a peanut and you can't undo it!

    And one more point of order...

    And despite "married to an oscar winning actress", why are his songs still as miserable as sin?

    If my missus's ex was Brad Pitt, I'd have a bit of an inferiority complex too...

  13. Addendum to the whole Two Andy Gills business: Andy Gill (musician) tells of how he was once on a production job in Scotland and had booked a restaurant for the evening only to find his reservation cancelled at the manager's behest, apparently as they thought he was AA Gill...