A Shortlist of Bands to Listen to Besides Coldplay

Photo by Sam Neill
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It might seem strange to admit, but Coldplay is the last active band you could still conceivably call “the biggest in the world.” Loads of people like them — if that weren't true, they wouldn’t be playing at Hard Rock Stadium August 28. In the decade or so since their feeble, MOR radio rock first echoed from the soundtracks of every other broadcast TV drama, the British band has somehow remained, well, not exactly relevant, but at least on the radio. Mostly, this is because they’re bland. Coldplay lyrics are usually about love and relationships, but none of the band's tunes have ever incited passion in anyone, except maybe a few people when they hear “Viva La Vida” at a sporting event.

But there’s another reason for the band's survival, and it has to do with trend-hopping. Coldplay began as a fashionable rock band when rock bands were still fashionable and deftly transitioned into making consumable dance music for present and future soccer moms who listen to adult contemporary.

Maybe you’re onto this. Maybe you’re finally getting ready to expand your horizons outside of the Coldplay nebula and don’t know where to turn. Well, we have the perfect guide for you. Here’s an era-by-era breakdown of a bunch of bands to listen to instead of Coldplay. You're welcome.

Parachutes (2000): If you like "Yellow," try "Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead. Like much of Coldplay’s first album, Parachutes, “Yellow” is a serviceable, unfussy pop-rock tune: not great but not something you’d hate to hear. It’s so similar to “Fake Plastic Trees” — from the guitar melody down to Chris Martin’s feeble imitation of Thom Yorke’s falsetto — that you can chalk up the differences to a key change. In the early 2000s, Coldplay was one of quite a few bands that sought to replicate the sensitive rock sound that Radiohead nailed on The Bends. What Coldplay couldn’t copy was Radiohead’s songwriting craft; Martin will never write anything as interesting as Yorke’s meditation on superficiality.

A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002): If you like "Clocks," try "Knife" by Grizzly Bear. Credit where it’s due: “Clocks” is one of the few original Coldplay hits that you can’t accuse the band of lifting from elsewhere. With its atmospheric piano melody, it’s hard to find a song that sounds remotely similar. “Knife,” from the Grizzly Bear album Yellow House, swaps the piano triplets for a steady guitar line but retains an airiness thanks to the indie band’s distinctive backing vocals and lush instrumentals. A piano does appear near the end of “Knife,” but it’s a few dropped-in notes rather than the deluge on the Coldplay track.

X&Y (2005): If you like "Fix You," try "Wake Up" by Arcade Fire. Chris Martin wrote this song to help his then-wife Gwyneth Paltrow get over her father’s death. No offense to either of them, but if we’re looking into rock songs released in 2005 about dealing with loss, there’s only one clear winner. “Fix You” is a pat-on-the-back, “you’re in my prayers” toss-off compared to the depth of feeling in “Wake Up,” which tells us there are no easy answers to death, answering Martin’s “I will try to fix you” with “I guess we’ll just have to adjust.” Plus, it is legitimately symphonic, as if the members of Arcade Fire, grieving over multiple family deaths, were trying to fill their empty lives with as much music and as many instruments as possible.

Viva La Vida (2008): If you like "Viva La Vida," try "Blue Ridge Mountains" by Fleet Foxes. Around 2008, Coldplay began to give themes to its albums, using the French Revolution as a stylistic base. And though Viva La Vida might be Coldplay's most interesting, sophisticated record, if you’re looking for an Old-World vibe by a band doing more than putting on the past like a hat, listen to Fleet Foxes. Singer Robin Pecknold is the only man alive who can make a lyric like “I heard that you missed your connecting flight” seem timeless and baroque, not to mention truly pretty. This track is off the band’s first record, and if you think it’s strange, wait until you hear Fleet Foxes' better, even more experimental follow-up records.

Mylo Xyloto (2011): If you like "Paradise," try "33 'GOD'" by Bon Iver. Mylo Xyloto — a ridiculous, incomprehensible concept album supposedly inspired by WWII Nazi resistance movements, graffiti, and The Wire — marks the beginning of the end for Coldplay. You’re better off dealing with Bon Iver’s “33 'GOD,'” off the album 22, A Million. That record also has a bizarre, ambitious concept, rife with cultic symbols and searching lyrics, but it’s weird and mysterious in a way that pulls you in. The Coldplay album is just confusing, and the title is just plain stupid.

Just type "edm" into YouTube and click play.
Just type "edm" into YouTube and click play.
via YouTube

Ghost Stories (2014): If you like "A Sky Full of Stars (feat. Avicii)," try literally any other EDM song. Imagine being in the club and hearing Chris Martin. Imagine the DJ drops a Coldplay song, completely ruining the vibe in the room. The scenario sounds horrible, yet it became a distinct possibility with this awful Avicii collab, a blatant cash-in on the EDM trend that crested a few years ago. EDM as a genre is infamous for making every song sound the same, which makes sense considering most of the music is meant to be used in a continuous mix. But “A Sky Full of Stars” is abysmally boring even compared to the rest of the field.

A Head Full of Dreams / Kaleidoscope EP (2015-17): If you like "Something Just Like This (feat. the Chainsmokers)," try "Pulse Demon" by Merzbow. Merzbow is a Japanese artist who makes and performs hard, industrial noise. Hey, it's still better than a Coldplay song featuring the Chainsmokers. Merzbow's grinding, hellish static bombarding your delicate ears easily beats subjecting them to the heinousness that Drew Taggard and Chris Martin came up with by knocking their heads together. If you are the type of person who gets enjoyment from a Chainsmokers/Coldplay collabo, you should just listen to noise. The only difference between the two is that listening to Merzbow won't actively make you dumber.

Coldplay. With AlunaGeorge and Izzy Bizu. 7 p.m. Monday, August 28, at Hard Rock Stadium, 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens; 305-943-8000; hardrockstadium.com. Tickets cost $131 and up via ticketmaster.com.

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