Things Music Critics Hate: Coldplay

coldplay-hated-mylo-xyloto.jpg
"As hated as a band can be?"

Music criticism is as much an affliction as an occupation -- especially these days, it's far more reliable as a sickness than a paycheck. While critics vary in their particulars of taste, most share a generally similar set of symptoms, leading to widespread prejudice in their ranks against certain artists, sounds, and fads. Things Music Critics Hate is an occasional series that will attempt to diagnose and explain the broadly shared beliefs and biases that shape the landscape of music criticism -- and also to discover what qualities (if any) professional observers generally agree make music good.

Is there any band more hated among music writers than Coldplay? Probably not. The British quartet is a more favored target among rockscribes even than Train. The written dismissals have been accumulating for years, and have found a cause for revival with today's release of Coldplay's new album, Mylo Xyloto. In advance of the new album, the New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones -- the pop critic most music writers wish they were -- indulged himself in a full-fledged (and hilarious) investigation of his negative views toward the band, exploring why "it's hard to deal with vexingly adequate music." Prejudices abound, but the new music itself has equally disappointed writers: The L.A. Times' Randall Roberts gave the album a tepid response -- "Coldplay is an expert at pleasure or at least poking into pockets of emotion without disturbing anything too much" -- and 1.5 stars out of four possible. Entertainment Weekly awarded it 2.5 stars out of five, asking whether the band members were tired of themselves. (Of course, Rolling Stone found cause for a 3.5 out of five, but we must take that with a grain of salt.)

Yet, as many of these reviews take pains to point out, Coldplay is wildly popular. Its shows pack arenas, and its records sell like half-off Viagra -- more than 15 million albums were unloaded in the U.S. alone since 2000. So why such a vast chasm between what fans adore and critics loathe?

Here's why: Coldplay to a music critic is like a Toyota Camry to a motoring enthusiast, or Applebee's to a foodie -- it's a denial of the artform, an abdication of nearly every interesting potential of the medium. And the search for new and interesting music is the very thing that keeps critics from selling out and getting better-paying jobs as high-school janitors.

Coldplay's music a lazy pastiche of other, better bands like the Beatles and U2, but even that wouldn't be a fatal flaw for professional music critics. No -- the band's real sin is that it borrows freely without producing anything particularly affecting, at least to those who listen to a great deal of music. The critic, you see, appreciates a genuine, strong feeling -- or even a genuine, strong lack of feeling -- above all else. A pop song may be banal and obvious, but if its obviousness is affecting and powerful, banality is forgiven. A new indie rock band may wear the greats of two decades ago as training wheels, but if it supplies a suitably meaty riff or cranky refrain, that can be okay.

Unfortunately for Coldplay, its emotional moves always feel constrained. The band's universe of feeling seems held within a small glass box, or caged like the elephant in the video above.

This is due partly to the (widely criticized) vagaries of Chris Martin's lyrics -- see "Once upon a time we burned bright/ Now all we ever seem to do is fight," or "Life goes on, it gets so heavy," from the new album. Those lines could be forgiven (or at least ignored) if the music held an expert's attention, but Coldplay also seems to find predictability a virtue, or possibly a necessity. You could fill in the rest of the melodies in "Paradise," above, after hearing their first few notes. And that's common for a Coldplay song. It's if those sold-out arenas would faint in shock at a sudden shift in dynamics or tempo.

Making emotionally impotent music is bad enough in the eyes of critics. But by ceding any element of surprise, the band has abandoned one of the main things that pop music writers need to keep their jobs interesting. Songs that are predictable, familiar, and constrained of feeling are no fun to listen to or write about. So Coldplay's pale dramas, as much as they clearly appeal to casual listeners, feel to music writers merely like one of the things we like least: a chore.

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Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Ian S. Port @iPORT, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.


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15 comments
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Boycie
Boycie

It's the music critics who've been trying to tell us for years that Coldplay are good.  Don't think I've ever seen a review of theirs where they get slated (unfortunately)

LM423
LM423

this article is total shit

Rargen1
Rargen1

Critic and fan convictions are definced by the questions with answeres. Critic and fan question have no crossover. Is Coldplay that bad or that good? Both are lost in preconceived convictions and that falls to Coldplay.

Payton_vege
Payton_vege

Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

Robert Henry Eller
Robert Henry Eller

Coldplay produces elevator music which does not elevate.

The band destroys the aesthetic potential of air guitar by allowing its members to use their mouths to make sounds, letting them hold instruments, allowing them to use those instruments, and plugging them into electric power sources.  Then they further abuse the technologies of sound and video recording by documenting and distributing the results.

As to their appeal to their fans:  Sarah Palin has fans, too.  All that is proved by the existence of fans is that, as the median IQ is by definition 100, 50% of the population has sub-100 IQs.

This is why all of evolution produces so few Einsteins, Da Vincis, and Hendrixes, and so many Coldplay fans.

The writer mentions Coldplay borrowing from U2.  U2's sole musical virtue is that it is not as bad as Coldplay.

James Jhonsonn
James Jhonsonn

its a little sad reading the comments, these people must be deaf.clueless.You try explain them what is good music but would be in vain.keep rocking your Coldplay, live happy in your small joyful world of ignorance.

guest
guest

I've been trying to figure out the draw to Coldplay for a couple years now.  I cringe when I hear them being compared to U2.  On a sidenote, I haven't seen a music video for a long time.  I watched this one and immediately thought, "Didn't I see this story before when it was called 'No Rain' by Blind Melon?"  

Sengira
Sengira

"You could fill in the rest of the melodies in "Paradise," above, after hearing their first few notes. And that's common for a Coldplay song. It's if those sold-out arenas would faint in shock at a sudden shift in dynamics or tempo."Oh my word, YES. Paradise is on heavy rotation on the stations I listen to most often, and every time I hear it I marvel at how utterly robotic it sounds. It's got absolutely no movement in it, no crescendo, decrescendo, nothing. It just starts, goes on, and ends on one perfectly straight line. It's the sort of music I imagine a microchip would listen to. 

Envy
Envy

I totally agree with this article. Coldplay doesn't take any risks. They don't add anything new to music. None of their banal tunes are horrible; they're just mediocre, lukewarm. I've always hated this band and will continue to.

CF
CF

What's the point of critics? If you disagree, you either change your tastes to conform if you're insecure about what you like, or you just get pissed off if you don't let some elitist prick tell you that what you like is wrong. If you agree, then what, you get to feel special and self-important like the critics do?

It seems the point is to take subjective opinion and declare it objectively, and in the douchiest way possible.

sasasa
sasasa

you have no ears. retard

NIx
NIx

Dear Ian S, Port, 

You have no taste in music whatsoever. 

Sincerely, A true music lover

Patty from The Netherlands
Patty from The Netherlands

I love this band, and it is good that even the critics write about them. It keeps them accopied. There are always haters, no matter what you do, because people come in different flavours. It is only a good thing, or else we would all be one and the same. Keep up you critic, kind regards Patty from The Netherlands

Robot See Miracles
Robot See Miracles

It's marvelous, it's as if you've never actually listened to a single Coldplay song.

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