July 30, 2009

Death... and a Good Majority of His Friends

Happy "Marco Belinelli Day" everyone!

So... I think I've finally figured out the Coldplay thing. Um,
for those of you who aren't following (i.e., all of you), let me back up a bit; I've never taken to Coldplay the way the majority of my peer group has, and it's been a point of minor contention between me and some of my friends. In a nutshell, they have accused me of not liking Chris Martin & Co. simply because they're so popular, while I've steadfastly denied that and claimed that, "I just don't find their music all that interesting." Well today I had a bit of an epiphany. You see, I finally caved in and decided to put Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head on my iPod and give them a fair listen (I haven't purchased any new music in a long time, so I decided to raid my wife's CD collection). Before today, I had never heard either of those two albums in their entirety... I had only experienced the unadulterated mediocrity of X & Y and the good -- but over-hyped -- Viva la Vida. Anyway, as I was listening to the aforementioned two albums, I think I came to a realization that my friends are right... at least partially. I think I would like Coldplay more if they were a less heralded band, but I still don't think I would love them... and that, in turn, is why I dislike them. I'm guessing you didn't follow that -- I'm sure it even makes sense -- so let's see if I can break it down more clearly. It occurred to me as I listened how Coldplay is quite similar to Travis; both are soft rock bands from the UK, both have one song that I would count among my all-time favourites ("Why Does It Always Rain on Me?" for Travis; "Trouble" for Coldplay) and a handful of other songs I really like (including "Side", "Happy to Hang Around", and "Flowers in the Window" for Travis; "Yellow", "The Scientist", and "Viva la Vida" for Coldplay). The big difference is that Coldplay is HUGE, and Travis is just Travis -- a mid-size band who's known to people who are serious about their "Brit Pop", but not universally. To me, that makes it fun to like Travis ("Let me tell you about this cool Scottish band I like..."), but the lack of any sense of discovery makes it not fun to like Coldplay ("Let me tell you about this band that just sold out a massive stadium tour..." -- it just doesn't work as well). If the tables were turned and Travis was huge, I'd probably like Coldplay more and like Travis less. Does that make sense?

That "sense of discovery" thing is part of my issue, but I still think there's a deeper reason why I've always resented Coldplay -- I don't like the fact that they're quite possibly going to be remembered as the defining band of our generation. Coldplay? Really!?!? As I just explained, I've been unfair in judgement of Coldplay in the past. They're really good at what they do, which is create simple, well-crafted pop songs. That's a great thing, but there's no way you can rationally argue that they've made the best music of the "aughts". Bands like Copeland, House of Heroes, and Thrice have been much more daring in pushing the artistic envelope, while maintaining (especially in Copeland's case) the same pop sensibilities Coldplay displays.

[Side tangent: I think another thing that annoys me about Coldplay is the way they can lead to this exchange when shopping at an HMV:

"Excuse me, do you have the new Copeland album?"

"Did you say Coldplay?"

"No Cope-land -- like the guy from The Police."

"Oh, OK, let me check. (pause) We've got one called 'Dressed Up and In Line'."

"No, that's their B-sides album, the new one is called 'You Are My Sunshine'."

"(pause) Sorry, I don't see that in our system."

Anyway, it's just a frustrating coincidence that the name of the best band of the decade is phonetically similar to the biggest band of the decade... also, it annoys me that HMV doesn't stock Copeland CDs more thoroughly.]

I know I'll (likely) never succeed at sufficiently educating the civilized world about the greatness of Copeland, HoH, and Thrice -- it won't stop me from trying, of course -- and as a result I'm having trouble reconciling the fact that someday little Ray-Ray (my future son) might come up to me and say... so what was it like to be around at the height of Coldplay's career. How do you answer that, "Umm... very OK?" I mean, this isn't like being around for The Beatles or Nirvana or even early Oasis. It'll be even worse when he first hears about Nickelback ("Really Dad, they were the most popular radio band in the early part of the millenium... why didn't you do anything to stop it?" -- I tried, Ray-Ray, I really tried).

To be fair, the Coldplay boys have definitely played their cards right and genuinely deserve the fame they've cultivated. For starters, they do a really good job of selecting singles. You'll notice that all their songs I mentioned as favourites of mine have been singles. I feel this is something that few bands do well nowadays, with Copeland being the worst offender (if I was telling somebody about Copeland, their singles are generally the last songs I'd use to showcase them). Also, from all accounts, Coldplay puts on a terrific live show, and I can tell just from little TV things I've seen that Chris Martin is one of those rare front men who seems to have mastered the everyman-charm-mixed-with-rock-star-charisma thing. Still, I feel like they somehow outgrew themselves and seem destined to be remembered as a better band than they actually are.

So... here's my proposal: can we all just agree that Radiohead was the most important band of our generation? I mean, they were commercially viable, yet they still reek of artistic integrity. They put out two or three albums that are all-time classics (I don't know The Bends as well as I should, so I'm giving it a maybe) and even tried their hand at revolutionizing the way music is distributed (the pay-what-you-want gimmick with In Rainbows). Most importantly, I could happily bounce little Ray-Ray on my knee while listening to Kid A and discussing how dissonance can be a viable musical tool if used in the right way.

Hmm... I really hope Ray-Ray likes music.


  1. cope-land

    it happens all too often.

  2. You have to think of it like Co-pland to see how it works. Also, I'm a mumbler.

  3. So, if I’m hearing you correctly, and I like to think that I am, this is all my fault. It would seem that I didn’t get to you quickly enough with Coldplay. I guess timing is everything. Had I forced you to listen to Parachutes before they blew up, our world could be very, very different. I’m assuming of course (because I am egotistical) that your initial encounter with Travis is connected somehow to a mix CD I made for September and Josh. Ironically, Travis had already been around for quite some time (I think they were at work on 12 Memories [album #4]) when that mix was made, but given that they had not (nor have ever) been huge in North America, you found it easier to embrace them. As an unrelated side note, next time Travis is in town you are coming with me if only so that you never refer to them as soft pop again. Travis live will change you. They rock as hard as any band I’ve encountered – and Halloween ’04 remains one of the top 5 concerts I’ve ever been to. My mind was sufficiently blown.

    Now granted, my journey to Coldplay was much easier than yours given that I was fully immersed in the Brit Pop era, and so they were just next in the long line of great bands that preceded them – Oasis, Blur, Radiohead, and Travis (amongst others). But part of it was that Coldplay rescued us. This is what you miss by going back after the fact. We had no choice but to fall in love with Coldplay and to propel them to the top of the charts. Oasis had just released Standing on the Shoulders of Giants which between you and me, almost killed me it was so bad. We would still have to wait another 3 and a half months for U2 to release All That You Can’t Leave Behind and as much as we can love it now, Kid A was such a departure from OK Computer that it took time to grow on us. Parachutes filled a void. And ya, there were some good albums to come out in 2000 – some very good albums (Learning to Breathe by Switchfoot, Left and Leaving by the Weakerthans, and Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams) but this fact remains: The top 5 selling albums of 2000 were N’Sync, Eminem, Britney Spears, Creed and Santana. After a brief reprieve with the Beatles 1, the next 5 were Nelly, Backstreet Boys, Dr. Dre, Destiny’s Child and 3 Doors Down. And I haven’t even mentioned that we also were exposed to Limp Bizkit, DMX, Kid Rock, Papa Roach, the Dixie Chicks and the infamous Nickelback.

    It was the end of an era – we’d just come out of a decade of great music. We’d been given Oasis, Radiohead, Weezer and Nirvana. U2 and REM both put out some of their best albums (Achtung Baby, Automatic for the People and Monster). And the beauty of it was that radio was still an option – you knew who you were listening to because we weren’t being oversaturated by a “Nickelback” or “Avril Lavigne” sound. You never mistook Rivers Cuomo for Rage’s Zack de la Rocha. Scott Weiland and Billy Corgan were obviously different people.

    I won’t argue Coldplay was the most inventive rock band ever, but they gave us what we needed when we needed it. And we need to put to rest this notion that Coldplay is the best band in the world today – that’s ridiculous. Michael Bolton is not dead yet. Coldplay isn’t the best band in the world; they’re just [one of] the biggest. It’s two different categories entirely – and assure me that you will educate Ray-Ray on this early. Bigger is not necessarily better. The reason they are so big (especially while be relatively young) is because they are accessible to such a wide range of demographics. Is that a crime? No, it’s just lucrative. I didn’t turn my back on Oasis when they got big, nor did I turn my back on Radiohead when they got monstrous. For me to hate Coldplay because they sell a lot of records would be hypocritical.

  4. Closing thought: how do we define “important”? Radiohead clearly put out some great albums – and yes, The Bends is an incredible album, one that everyone should own – but their narcissistic period in the early 2000’s has to count against them one would think. I don’t know how I would answer that question and if pushed I think I’d land on Radiohead too. That being said, in the mid 90’s Oasis had an incredible amount of influence – at least in Britain. Noel-rock almost became a genre of its own. And as much flak as I’ll get for saying it, we can’t forget Weezer – especially if we’re talking about the 90’s. Easily as important as Nirvana and I’d argue more so. Their first two albums had a profound effect on both the emo movement (along with Sunny Day Real Estate) and the indie rock scene. The difference I guess is that if you were ranking the 20 greatest bands of all time, Radiohead would probably make the cut whereas Weezer wouldn’t even be batted around as an option. But then again the Velvet Underground and Pixies are both widely considered two of the most influential and important bands of the past, so who knows. But you’re right as you normally are, Radiohead probably is the most important, at least until the Spice Girls reunite. Again.

  5. As always, Reg, very valid points. I think I probably didn't make it clear enough in the entry, but the main point this discussion stemmed from is that after listening to Coldplay's first two albums, I realized that I probably would have jumped right on the bandwagon if I had been one of the first few to find them out. It struck me that the perception I have of a particular artist is more important to how I respond to their music than I would readily like to admit. Still, I feel there are good and bad elements to this... for instance, I can sit back at a distance and laugh at people who still buy U2 albums... just as those same people would be justified at laughing at me for buying "The Mission Bell" and "Kingdom of Comfort" and whatever other mediocre albums Delirious? would have put out if they hadn't mercifully retired. I will never be rationale about Delirious? because I lived through "Mezzamorphis", just as U2 fans who were around for "Joshua Tree" or "Achtung Baby" have lost perspective on them. Since I wasn't listening to the radio when Coldplay came out, I don't feel like they saved me from the junk that was on there... I was already tuning it out. Still, I very much see your point about how that would have tinted the way you viewed them. "Yellow" (a song I already like) would sound 10 times better if it was breaking up the 53rd consecutive playing of "Smooth (ft. Rob Thomas)".

    Anyway, hopefully that clarifies my thesis a bit. I don't think I'll ever adopt Coldplay as a favourite, but I'll stop making digs at others for liking them... it's foolish of me to say that it's music without value (I can still say that about Nickelback, right?).

    As for the terminology, I think you're right that I was a little careless with inter-changing titles; even as I wrote it, I recognized that calling Radiohead the most important band is much different from calling Coldplay the biggest. I guess my assumption was that history remembers the biggest bands as the most important, but as you deftly pointed out with The Pixies and The Velvet Underground, that's not always the case. As for your comment at having to have the "bigger is not necessarily better" conversation with Ray-Ray, I hope that wasn't a veiled dig. I'm sure he'll do just fine.

    Finally, and most importantly, you clearly deserve all the credit for introducing me to Travis. You're "The Essential Travis" mix was definitely well received by this guy. And you know what, you can't tell me that it wasn't more fun introducing me to Travis than it would have been to make an "Essential Coldplay" mix. Am I right?

  6. Also... little known fact: when I was listing bands that it would have been cooler to "experience", I originally put 'early Weezer' rather than 'early Oasis'. I guess I changed it for the reasons you mentioned... Weezer doesn't seem like the type of band that's going to hang around in the "great bands" discussion. At the same time, I think it would have been quite something to have picked up The Blue Album on a whim and heard that sound for the first time. And you're very right about the influence they had on the emo / guitar rock scene... all the lead up to Manchester Orchestra's new album talked about how it was "their Pinkerton"... and there are a ton of other bands in that scene that would list Weezer as an influence. In fact, I'd say that the vast majority of the bands I'm into right now were influenced heavily by one (or any combination) of Weezer, Oasis, and Jimmy Eat World. That's right... I think JEW also needs be thrown into the discussion of "most important" band of our lifetime. Chew on that for a little while.

  7. haha - i like the thoughts caleb!

    i guess i need to start listening to radiohead...

    hope you are keeping well!

  8. Chew on that for a little while.