Why would a band that has sold a reported 50 million albums, won seven Grammys, and married a Paltrow even need a defense? While Coldplay may rule the Minivan Dominion with a falsetto fist, in other circles, mere mention of the band's name inspires sneering and vitriol.
And the group's newest album, Mylo Xyloto, will not change anyone's opinion of frontman Chris Martin and Coldplay. If you love them, you will still love them. If you are embarrassed to admit to others that you enjoy them on rare occasion, you will still be embarrassed to admit to others that you enjoy them on rare occasion. It's not their masterpiece (Viva la Vida is), but the sun-drenched Mylo still makes it hard for us to comprehend why people feel such animosity toward this band.
So in an attempt to address the contempt, let's try to understand the critiques.
The personalities suck. "[Coldplay is] the anti-Sex Pistols," Andy Gill writes in the Independent. "An act that repulses not through outrage, bad manners, and poor grooming, but through their inoffensive niceness and emollient personableness."
Rock 'n' roll — specifically punk rock — is about edge and attitude. A bottle of Jack, check. A disdain for your audience, check. A perpetually upright middle finger, check. But we can say with complete confidence and assuredness that Coldplay has no interest in being a rock band, let alone a punk band.
"Inoffensive niceness and emollient personableness" are two qualities Gill considers terrible things. Being nice? Does that invalidate your rock status? Emollient? That's how we like our shampoos and hand creams. If the biggest problem with Coldplay is that they're really agreeable dudes, we'll take them over Lou Reed any day.
The songs suck. "Five albums in, the British band has found an uncanny equilibrium between swooping, arena-ready pop and cheesy, down-to-earth humility," Marc Hogan writes in a Salon article titled "Why I Can't Hate Coldplay Anymore."
The writer successfully and succinctly describes the Coldplay aesthetic, which is equal parts epic and humble. Whether he means his description as a criticism or as a compliment, he's still right. But what Hogan doesn't acknowledge is that many universally popular bands have shifted into experimenting with their proven formulas in an effort to regain some cred and disenchant the frat-boy or soccer-mom constituency — just as U2 did in 1991, just as Radiohead has done throughout its entire career. Chris Martin and Coldplay, paradoxically, will probably never do that. They are as dependable as a Volvo.
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The plagiarism sucks. So Coldplay isn't the most original band, nor is it creating the most original sounds. "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall" was accused of borrowing from the Eurohouse hit "Ritmo de la Noche," but the piano sample in question is actually from Peter Allen and Adrienne Anderson"s "I Go to Rio" — and both are credited in Mylo's liner notes.
Also, do you honestly think Chris Martin heard a Joe Satriani song and decided it was something he had to rip off for "Viva la Vida"? Unlikely, if only because he seems like more of an Yngwie guy.
Perhaps, though, in an effort to defend Coldplay, I might actually be doing it a disservice. As Martin told EW: "We're as hated as a band can be." This self-effacing modesty may very well be a promotional tool. The only way one of the biggest bands in the world can keep global adoration going as a sustainable career is by positioning itself as the bullied underdog.
In Mylo Xyloto's serene elegy "Us Against the World," Martin could be cooing about his fate as a critical punch line: "Through chaos as it swirls/It's just us against the world/Through chaos as it swirls/It's us against the world." It's not profound, but you got the point. Right?