No more mellow Yellow: why Coldplay are pop's weirdest band

From genre-spanning albums to collaborating with Brian Eno and Beyoncé, the band are far more radical than people give them credit for

An early Coldplay photo did the rounds recently, and will surely do so again, because it is timelessly hilarious. Anorak, hoodie, voluminous brown cords, V-neck knitwear: they are enrobed in the profoundly lame wardrobe of that late-90s musical era when Travis and Starsailor threatened to drown rock’n’roll in their own anxiety sweat.

For so many people, that lameness has never left Coldplay – and this is peculiar because, contrary to the beliefs of almost any self-proclaimed arbiter of good taste, Coldplay are A Good Band. They could have treated their euphoric breakthrough hit Yellow as the aberration that it is on their moody debut Parachutes. Instead it became their mantra, as they cast even their most synthetic music in warm natural light. That sense of adventure is a quality that bands are usually revered for, but because their adventure is a sort of positivist Haribo-fuelled romp, rather than questing into the minotaur’s labyrinth like Radiohead or the National, they aren’t taken seriously.

They have collaborated with Brian Eno and Jon Hopkins, but anyone could work with that pair and generate something safe and palatable. More impressive is that they don’t merely have the clout to bag guest spots from Rihanna and Beyoncé, but the nous to write to their strengths: there are twin flavours of real pain to Martin and Rihanna’s climactic “you really hurt me” line in Princess of China. Best of all is how they gelled with EDM bros Avicii and the Chainsmokers; Coldplay share the same peaks-and-troughs style of songwriting, but add the necessarily big, generic lyricism that pulls a stadium together.

Coldplay’s voluminous brown cords phase circa 1999.
Coldplay’s voluminous brown cords phase circa 1999. Photograph: Piers Allardyce/Piers Allardyce/Shutterstock

So why are they so often scoffed at? On a basic level, they just don’t fit into the UK mindset, where the seven deadly sins are Pretension, Earnestness, Hypocrisy, Ambition, Contentment, Emotional Availability and Not Pulling Those Jeans Off. With their stadium uplift and conscious uncoupling, Coldplay have practised every one; unlike in the often goofily open-hearted US, in a jaded, sarcastic UK their sincerity reads to many as insincere.

Perhaps the problem is of a category error: they are a pop group that people think of as a band. Their back catalogue is like that most Coldplay of song titles, a sky full of stars: light years of album-track nothingness punctuated by points of brilliance, just as it is with so many pop artists. Perhaps sensing this, their forthcoming album, Everyday Life, is more cohesive, politically charged and, with its interstitial instrumentals, more album-y. But that giddy energy is there: they try out rockabilly, prog, even a kind of doo-wop-tinged 50s pop. The spectre of those brown cords is ever at hand, but Coldplay are still on their adventure of a lifetime, thumbing their noses at what bands are supposed to do.

Contributor

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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