Has any band of the past 20 years been as consistently irritating as Coldplay?

The rot began when Chris Martin married Gwyneth Paltrow and they started naming their children after fruit. That said, their new album is actually really good

14 June 2014

8:00 AM

14 June 2014

8:00 AM

It’s a long time, a very, very long time, since I bought a Coldplay album. Has any band of the past 20 years been so consistently irritating? Oasis were aggressively annoying, which isn’t the same thing. I quite liked the first Coldplay album, particularly ‘Trouble’, and A Rush of Blood to the Head was a fine record, full of the sense of an ambitious young band finding out what they were capable of. After that, though, they made the fatal Faustian decision to become the biggest band in the world. Although I have made it my business to hear subsequent albums, partly out of curiosity and partly to confirm my prejudices, actual folding money has not been involved. Chris Martin’s marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow and their decision to start naming their children after fruit seemed to say it all. Bands don’t often return from such dark places as this.

Coldplay Performs At Royce Hall
Coldplay’s Chris Martin Photo: Getty

Then I read somewhere that the ambient producer Jon Hopkins was on the new record. This was a good omen. Hopkins started out as Imogen Heap’s keyboard player and has worked a lot with Brian Eno, most notably on an improvised 2010 album, Small Craft on a Milk Sea (Opal). His real calling card, though, was a 2011 collaboration with the Scots folkie King Creosote, Diamond Mine, which was nominated for the Mercury and should have won. Creosote, real name Kenny Anderson, had recorded countless albums over the years, many of them apparently on the hoof with just an acoustic guitar for company. Diamond Mine was quite different, half a dozen bleak songs of the Western Isles bathed in ambient soundscapes. Hopkins’s contributions were not just sympathetic but beautiful, unexpected, transcendent, too. If I were Kenny Anderson, I’d never want to work with anyone else ever again.

Since then, though, Hopkins has become a busy man, recording solo albums and soundtracks, producing and remixing. I recently found a CD by a young English singer-songwriter called Dan Arborise, who favours chunky sweaters and has dreadlocks so long they have their own postal district. (I know nothing about him at all, but wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a few years ago he was Arborise D.M.P.G., head of house and captain of games.) Around In Circles was produced by Hopkins and it’s lovely, full of multiply overdubbed acoustic guitars, and quiet little washes of electric guitar providing Fripp-like textures. Some songs go on so long you could hypnotise someone with them. Again, dance music techniques have been used to shape acoustic music, but with very singular results. If you ever doubted how much the right producer can bring to a record, the evidence is here.

So the Coldplay album was purchased online and delivered with typical fanfare: an email telling me it had been posted, an email telling me it would arrive today and an email telling me it had already arrived, a mere 24 hours before it came through the letterbox. And here’s the rub. Jon Hopkins only worked on one track, and on that track he is named as one of four co-producers, not counting Coldplay themselves.

Then I discovered that he had been all over Vida La Viva like a rash. He had co-produced several tracks, played keyboards on others and worked with the band for the best part of a year. But because I hadn’t much liked the album, I hadn’t noticed.

Finally, the greatest surprise of all: Ghost Stories (Parlophone) is really good. It has been brutally reviewed, with Chris Martin’s post-divorce lyrics widely lampooned, and maybe justifiably so, as his lyrics have never been up to much. But do you know what? You can hardly hear them. They are not printed on the inner sleeve. They need hardly trouble us. And the music is delightful.

Gone are the soaring choruses and the jack-and-jill melodies designed for the world’s enormodromes. This is a quieter, more intimate album, more electronic, very Jon Hopkins in fact, a little like Kate Bush’s recent material, and I think someone may have been listening to Elbow as well. There was a time when everyone sounded like Coldplay. Now not even Coldplay do. It’s a record I think I could grow to love.

So what does this little adventure tell us? Very little, other than the fact that preconceptions are often valueless and it’s worth doing some research from time to time. I’ll still be buying Jon Hopkins’s next album, whatever it turns out to be.

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Show comments
  • Alistair Morrison

    Sorry to be petty, but Diamond Mine has no songs about the Western Isles. All references are to places in the East Neuk of Fife which is a delightful area on the East Coast of Scotland. e.g. Roome Bay Beach and Kilrenny.

  • Simon Fay

    The one song I like by them turns out to be an uncredited reworking of some Brazilian carnival thing.

    They make the sort of sound and spout the sort of sentiments you’d expect from a cohort from the wristband-wearing post-post-Live Aid generation whose parents birthed, nurtured, did the accounts for, and bought property from, Pink Floyd.

    To look at Coldplay’s four members they could be cousins, or even brothers. Like the people at Glastonbury, but even more so.

  • rosebery

    Simon Fay has it nailed, so I would only add that their low bpm music and Martin’s occasional but always pompous announcements, make that pronouncements, ensure that Coldplay is a band I avoid.

  • Kitty MLB

    I’m more of a Jazz and Baroque Classical Music type of creature.
    But as far as Chris Martin is concerned I blame Gwinnie, she’d
    never moved on from Brad, and then there was the strange
    macrobiotic diet as well as ‘Cupping’ whatever that is..
    Clearly strange influences on the hubbies band.

  • Laguna Beach Fogey

    Most irritating? Perhaps, but the list of contenders is a long one. They’re not my favourite band. I can’t stand Chris Martin’s singing voice. Plus, they ripped off Kraftwerk for their single ‘Talk’ in 2005.

    • Simon Fay

      Did they declare their appropriation of ‘Computer Love’s kbd theme upfront, or did pressure have to be applied?

  • P.chi ki wan

    Probably not but Keane and Travis are pretty dammed close.’why does it always rain on me’ because your a miserable Scottish git,thats why!.

  • Marquess of Salisbury

    When they began they weren’t too bad problem was that their records were overplayed on the radio that made the vocalist particularly annoying. He also supports the Lib/Dims.

  • La Fold

    Terrible, awful bedwetting stooodent pish for middle class festival goers and for people who dont really like music that much.
    Whenever I heard him on the radio all I could think was “CHEER UP CHRIS, YOURE RIDING GWYNETH PALTROW FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MAN!!”

    • MC73

      Yeah, but he had to live with her too…

      • La Fold

        Ha ha. I could have put up with her macrobiotic diets. just slip out the house for a sneaky big mac now and again and youre sorted.

        • MC73

          The diet thing would be easy, as you say, but could you have put up with the drivel she talks?

          • La Fold

            Id just put the headphones in and put a bit of the brian jonestown massacre ( a proper band) on and smile and just say “yes dear!” a lot.