Alan McGee’s (former Creation Records honcho and Oasis star maker) protestations notwithstanding, Coldplay is not merely a bunch of art school wannabes. Several times over the last month, McGee has lambasted the band — in the pages of NME, he referred to the band as “bedwetter’s music.” The art school slam on the band has been common enough in recent years — Oasis lobbed similar insults at Blur for example. But McGee may in fact just be voicing his frustration at the death of Britpop and the thrashing he took in the press over his ill-advised championing of former Kevin Rowland’s (Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s frontman) embarrassing solo album, which reportedly only sold several hundred copies in the U.K. despite the massive publicity push from Creation H.Q.
What Coldplay and the gargantuan popularity of bands like Travis and Radiohead prove is that the mid-’90s Cool Britannia has rusted — not coincidentally at the same moment that Britain’s love affair with New Labour and Tony Blair has begun to dim and sour. The rising political disillusionment and apathy is matched by a growing moodiness in British pop. Musical anthems (Travis’ “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?” and “Driftwood” and Coldplay’s “Yellow”) are less cheery barnstormers and more complex introspection, and if not exactly downcast, then certainly tinged with melancholy not unlike the ending days of a tempestuous relationship.
If Travis was “the” British band of the summer of 1999, then Coldplay is surely fulfilling a similar role in the first year of the new millennium. And what both bands demonstrate is that Radiohead is the new creative standard-bearer in British pop, having inherited that mantle from Oasis sometime around the release of 1997’s OK Computer and the decidedly underwhelming ’97 Oasis offering Be Here Now. But don’t be fooled by naysayers like McGee into thinking that Coldplay is merely Radiohead Junior or Jeff Buckley lite. These early twentysomethings have come crashing out of the gate with an album, Parachutes, more developed and fully artistically realized than what Radiohead managed to achieve at a similar stage in their career.
“Yellow” is the song everyone’s talking about. It has Wembley Stadium anthem written all over it — from the chugging guitar intro to the wistful acoustic verse. As a paean to heart-wrenching love, it fires on all cylinders and reminds us of just how all consuming that first love is. Frontman Chris Martin certainly hasn’t forgotten, imploring that “for you, I’d bleed myself dry.” The propulsive rhythm guitars only make those emotions even more palpable.
Interestingly, Coldplay prove to be near Radiohead’s equal at employing compelling stop-start dynamics and beautifully building crescendos on this track, as well as throughout Parachutes. “Shiver” is the probably the most apt comparison between these two bands, as the song alternates between a blistering guitar attack on the chorus and a quieter tender mood on the verse. Martin is also near Thom Yorke’s equal in the vocals department, fully capable of both a sweet falsetto and rousing full-throated singing of enough power to get the punters’ lighters lifted and lit, arms in the air at stadiums across Britain.
Enough of the Radiohead comparisons. I don’t want to be the latest in the line of lazy journalists to burden a band this talented with that label. I merely suggest that Coldplay have released the monster debut of the year and fully belong in the company of bands as brilliant as Radiohead and Travis and that Britain’s post-Britpop hangover is at least as musically compelling, if not more so, than the rah-rah days of Cool Britannia culture.