Today’s Smackdown is about Coldplay, but for me, you can’t talk about Coldplay without also talking about Radiohead. 40 years ago it was the Beatles or The Stones. Now it’s Coldplay or Radiohead – two British rock bands with big ambitions, grand ideas, and apparently unlimited time to muck around in the studio.
Coldplay sells more records. Radiohead gets more love from the critics. Both have obsessive fans who puzzle over every cryptic lyric. But Radiohead is work. Listening to Radiohead can be tiring, and yes, even tiresome. The egghead allusions to 20th century classical composers like Olivier Messiaen, the oblique storytelling, the paranoia of Thom Yorke’s characters… it can all be a bit too much. Of course it can also be simply brilliant. But Coldplay? I like Coldplay. Their music just washes over you. And there’s the problem: It’s like, well, like the prog rock version of smooth jazz, and Radiohead is Miles Davis – all edgy and cool, and melodic in ways you might not expect.
I have no doubt that Chris Martin and the rest of Coldplay (go on, name them if you can) work, and work hard, at what they do. Their records are pristine, beautiful, and there’s always at least one song that makes me want to give them another chance. And I was keen to hear what Brian Eno’s production would do for them this time around. Answer: it makes the songs sound better - without actually making the songs better. You want a ballad, listen to “Pyramid Song” from Radiohead’s Amnesia. It won’t sell many iPods, and no one really knows what it all means, but it’s a helluva lot more interesting than any of Chris Martin’s plaintive wailing.
Okay Coldplay fans, you may fire when ready ... in the comments section.