I especially love being wrong about music. I like listening to the right music with the wrong prejudice, amplifying a negative while ignoring a positive…then realizing in my quest to conquer a complex evil I overlooked a simple good. Such is the case when I talk about baseball, vegetables, The Hills, and Coldplay.
I love being wrong about Coldplay.
I’ve written about Coldplay in the past, most of it sarcastic and critical. After the immediate success of Viva La Vida, I wrote this: “Take off the army-chic-designer-camo, Patches Martin. Lower the raised fist. No mas on the jazzercize stage histrionics. Stop writing nonsense about “cavalry choirs.” Keep writing ‘Barbara Ann,’ because you ain’t making Pet Sounds. Do what you do, do it well, and give a lot of people a lot of harmless pleasure.”
In the same post, I also said: “I’d honestly love to love them. Chris Martin is a gifted pop songwriter who writes great melodies at his worst, and who writes great songs (“Fix You”) at his best.”
While I don’t disagree with Quote #1 today, it focused on the songs I found objectionable at the expense of the songs that I would genuinely like. Most of Viva does try too hard, but some of it gives “a lot of people a lot of harmless pleasure,” which is exactly Coldplay’s strength. It gave me plenty to resent, but it also gave me songs I should’ve “loved to love.” Rather than complaining about “Viva La Vida,” I should’ve shut up and enjoyed “Strawberry Swing.”
Song of the Week: Coldplay “Strawberry Swing“
In general, I like big bands, big songs, big choruses, muscular riffs, and all things epic, blustery, sweeping, grand, and larger-than-life. Maybe it’s because my earliest introduction to pop was Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. Maybe it’s because music, at its best, communicates something incommunicable; the bigger the song, the louder that language becomes. I don’t know. It Still Moves remains my favorite My Morning Jacket album. I like the Killers Day and Age way more than I should. I think the chorus of “Since You’ve Been Gone” sounds perfect. You get the idea: if the music’s still honest, the bigger the better.
So, when a band of smaller scope swings for the fences, I’ll gladly give them points for ambition. But when an exclusively ambitious band trusts itself enough to hang back, the result can be (paradoxically) more powerful. In the midst of the bluster, ambition, and vaguely political grandeur of Viva La Vida, there’s “Strawberry Swing,” a simple, lovely song that never “turns epic.” The song’s leading guitar melody and mid-tempo bounce create a scene, and that scene is literally “a perfect day.” It’s not really an eventful day, as most Days In the Life of Coldplay seem to be; it’s just unobstructed, content, and beautiful.
The song’s remarkable for its restraint. It trusts itself enough to explore only the framework that’s given, never reaching for a “bigger moment,” never contriving a climax, never forcing a rev-up or bridge. If the mark of a great band is being able to make a song epic, the mark of a mature band is knowing when not to. Kudos to Coldplay for making something simple, honest, and beautiful, then trusting themselves enough to let it be.
And next time you hear me complain about what Coldplay might do better, remind me to enjoy the simple pleasure of what they are doing well.