Monday, April 13, 2009

The Twelve Tasks Of ToffeeBoy #3 – Coldplay




I knew I’d regret this. You see, when Hercules (or Heracles or whatever he wants to call himself) set about his (relatively straightforward, it has to be said) tasks, he didn’t have a full time to job to hold down at the same time. Or if he did, his boss (Zeus?) probably allowed him some sort of compassionate leave of absence. I have to admit that my memory of the story is a bit hazy here but I’m sure Abahachi will confirm that I’m on the right lines.

Anyway, my point is that I’m struggling to find the time to do this and I’m getting a bit behind – we’re already well into April and I’m only just posting the Third Task now. Of course I’ll keep going – I don’t want to disappoint my public – but please bear with me.

For those of you who haven’t been concentrating (and, shame on you), the idea of this supposedly-monthly feature is that I am attempting, by drawing your attention to a variety of musical artistes who fit the general description of Pop Music, to convince you (if you need convincing) that Pop Music can be great; it can be inspirational; it can be moving; it can change things and that the term should never be used disparagingly. There was much debate after the First Task about what exactly we understood by the term Pop Music which I attempted to summarise in the introductory text to the Second Task. I promised that in the Third Task I would look at some of the questions that had arisen so far but then, in response to a comment about Pop v. Popular, I was forced to jump the gun and turn the discussion to the following question:

Does pop music have to be popular? My initial answer to this was a big, fat, resounding ‘yes’ but I think I’ve changed my mind. The term ‘Pop Music’ is of course derived from ‘popular music’ but it gradually dawned on me (OK, ToffeeGirl pointed it out to me) that popular here doesn’t mean ‘lots of people like it’ but rather that it’s music that’s liked by ‘the people’ as opposed to ‘classical music’, which isn’t!

So, I really don’t think that popularity enters into the equation: it can be Pop Music even if I’m the only person on earth who knows, or indeed, likes it. Agreed?


Well? What do you think?

You’ll remember that the First Task featured Microdisney: I went right to the cool end of the pop spectrum with that particular choice but was then perhaps guilty of playing it safe with the Second Task and my selection of Everything But The Girl. I don’t think that the same accusation could be directed at me with this month’s (actually, last month’s) choice of Coldplay.

I’ve been an active member of the RR/Spill community for well over a year now and I’ve got an unbelievable amount of pleasure from listening to the diverse music recommended by the diverse bunch of regular posters both here and in the Other Place. Thanks to you lot I’ve discovered a new favourite band (The Decemberists): saneshane and frogprincess (to name but two) have regularly presented tasty new treats for me to check out (Over The Rhine and Midlake to name but two) and there’s frequently an unlooked-for gem waiting to get to know me each week. In fact, if anything, I find myself struggling to stay afloat in a sea of new music. I can’t say I’ve been won over by everything: I haven’t heard too much hip-hop/rap that’s convinced me I’m missing something, despite the concerted efforts of steenbeck and ejaydee (to name but two); I’ve heard some great jazz recommended by Abahachi and nilpferd (to name but two) but much of it has left me cold and as for DsD’s Drive By Truckers – well, let’s just say I’m not hitching a lift!

I realise that I’m getting dangerously close to the mortal sin of undonding here but I wanted to go down this path because I want to highlight an anomaly in our way of thinking and our collective behaviours. We wouldn’t all be here if it wasn’t for our love of music – and the beauty of the ‘Spill is the way that this love transcends our individual tastes so we can talk about the music that we love without fear of being attacked for doing so. The moral is, if you like it, say so, if you don’t, shut up. And as a rule, this works very well.

So why is it that this band are seen as fair game? Why do people hate Coldplay and, more importantly, why do they feel that it’s OK to hate them? And why do they inspire such open hostility in the first place? I seriously want to know. Surely there are more deserving targets than Chris Martin and Coldplay? Wouldn't we prefer people to be listening to Coldplay (or Keane, Aqualung, The Kooks etc.) than, to pick an example at random, sugar-coated Europop?

For the record, I wouldn’t describe myself as a big Coldplay fan. I really liked the first album (Parachutes) and I bought the second (A Rush Of Blood To The Head) as soon as it was released. After that, I went a little cold on them (I didn’t buy the third album (X&Y)) but my interest in their music has been rekindled recently with the release of Viva La Vida which I would rate as one of the best pop songs of the last few years.

So, here we have a small selection of Coldplay songs – I’m sure you know them all anyway so try to listen to them, if you listen to them at all, with an open mind. Try to hear them for the first time and detach yourself from any preconceptions you might have. Listen to the music, listen to the lyrics and if you still feel you hate them, please tell me why! If your first reaction on seeing this post was "Get this filth off my 'Spill", please let me know why you feel the way you do - I can take it!

Oh, and if you buy one Coldplay album, buy Parachutes.Links
Official site
Official myspace site
Wikipedia

61 comments:

Frogprincess said...

Hey Toffee - hope you and the caramel family had a lovely Easter. I love the parachutes album to pieces still. It sounds like really classy indie stuff. I convinced Maddy to put 'yellow' in the colours list and I'm proud of that. Their later stuff is very listenable intelligent pop but they will never, for me, repeat the rough n ready debut album feel of Parachutes...Can ask you a question and open it to the others too? Do bands get less interesting and lose their edge when they hit the big time?

ToffeeBoy said...

@ fp - fully agree about Parachutes - 'tis a genuine classic. In fact, I'd forgotten just how good tracks like Sparks and Spies were before putting the playlist together.

As for your question, I'm sure that there's an element of that (it's much harder to write angst-ridden songs when your in a penthouse suite enjoying the high-life) but I also feel quite convinced that part of that lack of edge is our own perception of the band. It's the "They can't be cool because they're successful and everyone else likes them" syndrome.

We often talk about over-exposure and I'm more than familiar with the feeling of falling out of love with a song but surely it's we who are changing, not the song.

It's all about context I suppose ...

nilpferd said...

I've never heard Coldplay, so I gave this a listen. I don't hate the tracks, but I don't really like them much either. I suppose there just aren't any of the elements- admittedly, there are fairly few- which hook me into pop or rock music. The rhythm is too straight, the harmonic changes keep to a minimum, the acoustic guitar strumming with occasional spurts of electric guitar sound seem depressingly predictable. The singer's voice is whiny without being particularly sincere, to my ears, and the lyrics contain too many banalities.
Um- we still on for a G.W. Mclennan memorial post, btw?

Abahachi said...

As far as the mythical stuff is concerned, Hercules (Latin version; Heracles is the Greek, arguably more correct and certainly more pretentious) was indeed a full-time hero, so could concentrate on such tasks as cleaning the Augean Stables. Which hadn't been cleaned for many years, and so were full of SH*T...

Oh dear... I promise I will listen to these with as open a mind as I can manage, but not tonight; moderately traumatic day, returning from holiday to 342 e-mails and a crisis in Mrs Abahachi's business. I mean, I actually loved Clocks, and thought Yellow was all right, and I don't have an instant aversion to the whole macrobiotic Gwyneth thing - but Coldplay, pop..?

tincanman said...

I've alwasy tended to think of pop music as music which is intended to be popular (whether it ends up being liked or not). So classical music tailored for mass consumption is the pops.

The 'people's' music is folk music, which rarely achieves mass popularity but is of, from and about 'the people.'

Works for me tagging songs, anyway.

steenbeck said...

Oh, hello, I didn't see you there. I was just telling my story about the time I worked for an arts and entertainment magazine in Boston. And I got to go backstage and meet Coldplay. (Well all except Chris Martin). It was during the Parchute tour, as it happens. They seemed like shy, awkward regular fellows. Very nice indeed.

Frogprincess said...

Toffee - I take it you saw THIS:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnOtmimxSVw

I actually thought he was very good in this. Nice send up of a fame hungry pop star

ToffeeBoy said...

@ nilpferd - I'm impressed that you've made it through to 2009 without hearing Coldplay - I almost feel bad about spoiling your record! Definitely on for the GWM memorial playlist - 6 May is the big day - how are we going to arrange it without spoiling the surprise for everyone else?

@ Abahachi - Augean Stables? Piece of piss! I could clean them in my sleep...

I'll be interested in what you think - warts 'n' all, please. And if it's not pop, what is it?

@ tincanman - I've been thinking about this again and I think I've got a theory that works. During the 60s, the term pop music came to be used to describe a type of melodic, rhythmic, simply-structured music which at the time was very popular (thus 'pop' music for short). As the 'pop' artists began to experiment with structure, sound and lyrical content, the term continued to be used, along side new genres such as 'rock', 'progressive', 'punk', 'new wave' and 'indie'. So when we use the term 'pop music' now, the music we're talking about doesn't have to be 'popular'. I think that makes sense.

@ steenbeck - worked for an arts and entertainment magazine indeed! We all know about young girls hanging around outside concert halls, waiting for the stars!

@ fp - thanks for that - he did come across well in that - but did anyone else find the last series of Extras excrutiatingly annoying? I loved The Office and the early Extras series but this was unwatchable.

goneforeign said...

Well, speaking about this, how about another piece of sheer genius.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DgIRjecItw
My sister in Spain absolutely hates him, I think he's a genius.
ps; I've never heard this group either but I'll give 'em a try.
I've been thinking about 'pop' for as long as I've been on here but never getting very close, Toffee's comments are a start, maybe I could develop my personal thoughts from there.

Shoegazer said...

The lavish praise heaped on Coldplay at the start was out of all proportion. The backlash against them later was indie snobbery of the worst kind (although they didn't help their cause with a crappy third album). Was surpised how good their live show was last year - shoeteen #2 was won over by their performance & became as big a fan as her sister. Probably just as well that Blimpy is away this week. As for FP's claim, I feel a steward's enquiry is called for. The 2nd album was by far their best - but has been so overplayed that you won't agree.

Japanther said...

As a self-professed indie snob, I 'll try to remain impartial here, especially as i'm still feeling guilty about laying into Snow Patrol on my last Podcast (sorry Shoeteens, I was just bitter because they seem to have changed out of all recognition from the band I used to like).

FP's question about what happens when bands hit the big time was exactly what I was trying (unsuccessfully) to address in that Podcast, namely that both things happen; the music itself becomes more bland to achieve the necessary mass appeal and the context within which the music is listened to changes too, meaning it is no longer possible to have an individual, objective opinion about the band.

Now, to Coldplay. I've just done as instructed and attempted to give it a fresh listen and i'm afraid it seems to have lessened my opinion of them. I usually only hear Colplay when i'm shopping for a new bathplug or whatever (except for Parachutes, which my flatmate at the time played constantly) and the songs seem custom-made to be background music to the point that if I sit down and really listen (as I've just done) the mediocrity of the music and lyrics is exacerbated, and for me, there's nothing worse than mediocre, i'd rather it was terrible!

Sorry TB, I don't hate Coldpaly and Chris Martin seems like a top bloke who actually has interesting stuff to say in interviews, and I really tried to make myself as objective as possible, but they just utterly failed to move me.

Am loving the ongoing "pop" debate though and really dig the 12 Tasks, I even bought a Microdisney record!

tincanman said...

As a self-professed indie snob.....

I'm not picking on Japanther, but seems as good a time as any to raise the question@ At what point does a band stop being indie?

Sorta goes with the whole trend eJay talked about a few weeks ago of a musical community obsessed with the Next Big Thing. Once a band has a bit of success, the 'indie snobs' and music press dismiss them.

I agree first albums have an innocence and passion and a lifetime of pent up ideas that will never be repeated, but surely there's something to be said for grown up observances and more fully developed ideas?

Chris said...

Hi TB. I feel morally obliged to engage with this, especially as you make so much effort to present it. I’m in a situation where I can’t consume much broadband, so I haven’t listened to every track all the way through (but I am already familiar with two of them). If there are any surprises at the end of songs that I missed, adjust my reactions, but I don’t think Coldplay do surprises. These are my impressions:

Yellow. Mid-paced common-time with the emphasis on the third beat, varied slightly on the chorus. Acoustic guitar chord on every beat. Martin’s earnest, almost-plaintive, almost-weedy voice with the falsetto break that says ‘vulnerable’.

Sparks. Relaxed waltz-time. More melodically interesting over repetitive acoustic guitar (again). Martin’s earnest, almost-plaintive, almost-weedy voice with the falsetto break that says ‘vulnerable’. Runs out of words at the end…

Spies. Most interesting yet rhythmically but the repetition blunts that effect. Martin’s earnest, almost-plaintive, almost-weedy voice with the falsetto break that says ‘vulnerable’.

We Never Change. Relaxed waltz time again. Constant warm-bath acoustic guitar again. Remember Albatross? The engineer did when getting the electric guitar down. Martin’s earnest, almost-plaintive, almost-weedy voice with the falsetto break that says ‘vulnerable’.

Clocks. Insidious repetition of standard rock 3/3/2 beat configuration of common-time. Repeatedly. Listener beaten into submission. Martin’s earnest, almost-plaintive, almost-weedy voice with the falsetto break that says ‘vulnerable’.

Speed Of Sound. Clocks remixed. Same beat and chord sequence. Repeatedly. Martin’s earnest, almost-plaintive, almost-weedy voice with the falsetto break that says ‘vulnerable’.

Politik. More repetition for build-up effect. Martin’s earnest, almost-plaintive, almost-weedy voice with the falsetto break that says ‘vulnerable’.

Viva La Vida. Slightly novel breakdown of common-time cycle. Repeated throughout the song. Martin’s earnest, almost-plaintive, almost-weedy voice with the falsetto break that says ‘vulnerable’.

On all tracks, after a verse and a chorus, you’ve heard the song. Repetition is the key to the format as it allows the listener to ‘get’ the song easily and tap along. No horses are ever frightened in the making of this music. I haven’t paid much attention to the words and I suspect few people who passively like Coldplay do. I don’t think they’re important when you have the aural wash behind Martin’s earnest, almost-plaintive, almost-weedy voice with the falsetto break that says ‘vulnerable’ in every song.

This is definitely Pop Music. Of a kind that makes me want to say I hate Pop Music, which is unfair to most of TB’s collection, I’m sure. But this is where I keep getting stuck: the contrast between what is bland, manufactured, over-produced, engineered to hook a listener with an insistent beat or voice (such as this) and the variants such as Microdisney that TB has already presented which have some individuality, imagination and taste but lack mass appeal. I still think Pop Music has to be popular. See Emily Play was weird and, had it not sold, would have been discarded as quaint psychedelia but, because it was popular with the record-buying public, it became Pop Music.

I think nilpferd got Coldplay pretty well nailed. And if it’s possible to do that after listening to them for the first time, I’m pretty sure that condemns them, doesn’t it?

ToffeeBoy said...

@ everyone - I'm really enjoying all the comments and seriously appreciate the time you're all spending on this strange little project of mine.

It started out as a vehicle for me to put forward some bands that I like for your consideration: bands which seemed to get overlooked on RR and the 'Spill but which I felt deserved to be heard.

I have to confess that in choosing Coldplay I've gone off the rails a bit. They certainly weren't on my original 'hit list' and they're definitely not one of my favourite bands but I've become increasingly bemused over the months by the hostility which many of you otherwise-reasonable people seem to feel towards them so I gone and went and chose 'em to see what fell out the other end - possibly against my better judgement.

@ Japanther - I was interested in your comment that "there's nothing worse than mediocre". I know exactly what you mean but I think that this may well be at the root of everything that troubles me about this whole "don't you just hate Coldplay" thing. Isn't it a bit like saying "The Nazis are OK - it's those bloody Social Democrats I can't stand!" I've no idea who I would see as the musical equivalent of the Nazis (probably best not to even consider that one) but we do sometimes seem to feel more hostility towards music which is just a bit bland and anodyne (and I fully admit that much of Coldplay's output could be described thus) than we do towards music that is truly bad - recent Cliff Richard, anyone? Is it simply because we're not exposed to the truly bad? That we never really hear it?

@ Chris - I genuinely appreciate your comments - I don't agree with them all but I appreciate them. We've already touched on context (and I really do think it's crucial) and I think that the first album would be seen very differently if it wasn't for what happened next. If Coldplay hadn't gone on to become a platinum-selling, stadium-filling, A-list actress-marrying megaband, I suspect that Parachutes would be viewed as an indie classic. Personally I think that his "earnest, almost-plaintive, almost-weedy voice with the falsetto break that says ‘vulnerable’" works very well and I don't see it as at all cynical or manipulative. It rings true to me.

Back with more thoughts later - keep the comments coming!

Shoegazer said...

Bands who stopped being good once they became popular: U2, Simple Minds, Gary Numan ( started doing some good stuff again after he fell off the radar)..... I'm sure there are many more.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I'm missing out on both the coldplay and aiden moffat debate! That said, mini mcflah bottle fed a 5 day old lamb today. And we saw some pretty damn cool otters. Otters are massive Nelly Furtado fans by the way ( apart from her last album- they think she sold out with that one).

Blimpo

DarceysDad said...

As a non-musician, and with the reminder to you that I can't "re-listen anew" at the moment, I have to say that I mostly agree with Chris.

As a kind of control element or comparison, I was encouraged to buy Embrace's Out Of Nothing shortly after release. I did so, and listened knowing next to nothing about it, or indeed much of their previous output other than the singles.

I instantly loved OON, and still do. There are a number of reasons for that, not least Youth bullying a career-best vocal performance out of the notoriously off-key Danny McNamara. But two points:
(i) I took an instant dislike to Gravity, even citing it to a friend as an over-dressed one-chord song that's as irritating as Coldplay. Then I read the credits. Explained a lot!
(ii) Who is OON aimed at? Surely the same crowd as Coldplay. Yet Embrace - on that record at least - transcended the snobbery and derision that had previously been aimed at them. Even U2 have had some of the same stick over the years, yet have amassed a body of work that will be around for donkeys years. But I think my point here is that if you've done something to death, move on or face the consequences. Re-invention is key. U2 have done it, Embrace died trying. Coldplay? Let's wait for the next album.

Pop? Yes. Quality? Yes. Diminishing returns set in? Definitely. OK to hate it? No: if you don't like it, ignore it. People don't hate Status Quo, they ignore them. Have Coldplay done anything to merit that vitriol? Non-musically, Chris Martin can sound a bit of a well-meaning wet twonk, but his misdemeanours are very minor compared to some. Musically I'd be back to quoting Chris' comment here, I think. But I'll get back to you again at the weekend, TB.

By the way, Toffee, have you managed to listen to the Dakota Suite AotW - music from the pen of a man who says his heart&soul belong on Moyeseyside, and whose biog quotes Brian Labone?!

Japanther said...

that's a fair point tincanman.

For me personally, it's definitely NOT about finding the newest bestest thing and dismissing everything else, although in my NME reading youth I may have been guilty of this kind of approach.

If anything, these days it's the opposite, my record collecting nerd instincts mean that I love having the full repertoire of my favourite bands, and am bitterly disappointed when they start putting out self-derivative rubbish that I don't want to buy.

I genuinely believe that the music DOES change; whether it's direct pressure from their paymasters to churn out another "Yellow", "Chasing Cars" etc or self-imposed pressure by the band to stay popular, I don't know, all I know is that most bands I like(d) seem to stray away form the kind of music that suits my personal taste and turn their back on the things that attracted me to the band in the first place.

There are notable exceptions of course. The White Stripes stayed true to their roots and didn't attempt to write radio-friendly unit shifters, Radiohead (and Nirvana too) evolved their sound into willfully obtuse directions and are all the better for it. They seem to be the exceptions though.

Abahachi said...

Um. Musically, I have to say that this hasn't worn terribly well as far as I'm concerned. At the time - bearing in mind that by then I was getting heavily into jazz and not listening to a lot of contemporary rock - Parachutes seemed like a breath of fresh air, quite distinctive and interesting. Now, I find Spies pleasant enough (though his falsetto is too feeble to sustain that amount of use), Yellow very annoying and the rest simply forgettable. I still like Clocks, though it now sounds even more as if U2 had been listening to Godspeed You Black Emperor. The rest, I'm afraid, irresistably call to mind all the usual disparaging adjectives: pleasant, one-dimensional, bland.

My current inclination is to blame the band and/or the producer. Put another way: lose the useless guitarist and his annoying arpeggios, sack the drummer and bring in some more interesting electronic rhythms, and we might start to get something interesting out of these songs, not least because the repetitiveness becomes less a problem and more of a musical choice. For some reason I found myself imagining something along the lines of The Beloved. The curse of Coldplay may be that they are a Proper Band; I could well imagine that their fans, if not they themselves, feel smugly superior to manufactured pop for precisely this reason. In answer to one of TB's questions, I think the choice between this (or Keane, or Travis, or the rest of them) and sugary Europop is by no means as clear-cut as is assumed.

As to why Coldplay should be so disliked, I can think of a whole range of reasons. Sense of undeserved success: if (as a lot of us seem to do) you find this music bland and at best inoffensive, then its global success is both inexplicable and aggravating - why can't these people spend their money on something decent? Sense of betrayal and lost opportunities: if (as at least some of us do) you found Parachutes quite decent as a debut, then Coldplay's inability to improve or develop, or their deliberate eschewal of development in order to pursue their 'demographic', is at best disappointing. Chris Martin's sensitivity and intelligence: seriously out of tune with the Zeitgeist, which demands irony rather than sincerity (cf. U2's reinvention). Coldplay as most successful and hence most visible target from an entire generation of mediocre, middle-of-the-road guitar music from Proper Bands.

Much more interesting for me is the question of why TB or anyone else thinks this is Pop, when it seems to lack almost any of the characteristics which I would associate with pop music other than its popularity (and that seems to be more focused on album rather than single sales, in so far as those terms have any meaning these days). I wonder how far there's an element here of using the label in a negative sense, as a dustbin for music that's excluded from other categories: Coldplay clearly aren't dance or soul or r'n'b or rap (not with that sense of rhythm); they're not indie (or not any more); they're not Proper Rock (too weedy and sincere?); therefore they must be pop (yuk). I don't buy that argument at all, because I'm happy to accept pop as a positive label rather than as a default.

Of course there is bad pop and ghastly pop as well as good pop; I don't object to calling Coldplay pop because I don't think much of their music (Cliff Richard is indeed far more appalling in every way, but I wouldn't for a moment deny that he belongs in the pop category) but because I can't see how their music has anything in common with what I think of as pop. How is this not just rock - indie-rock, if you take the 'indie' bit to refer to a style rather than economic status?

DarceysDad said...

Damn. Brilliantly put, Abahachi, and now I want to delete most of my comment.

This definition of 'pop' is becoming as elusive as Keyser Sose.

sourpus said...

Have to join in with this one. A couple of my thoughts:

1) A new angle on this band has come with living in Hungary. For various reasons I shan't go into here, I have been sharing a flat for the last year and a half with a fan of Christian rock. I now feel as well acquainted with the genre as I ever want to get. Its not Coldplay's fault (any more than Coldplay are Radiohead's fault) but im afraid - never having been a Coldplay fan to begin with - I can't listen to them these days (nor indeed U2 either) without (un)consciously referencing the top Christian rock bands of the moment such as Delerious or United. Just have a listen to songs like 'Mighty to save':

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXCAhKDZRlo

Cant you hear it? Doesnt it make you queazy too?

2) In the kindest of moments, I sometimes compare Coldplay's first album to U2's Boy, just to see how they stand up. I remember hearing Boy in the week it was released and thinking it striking and gloriously fresh and exciting, not to say uplifting, and went out and bought it the same week. U2's historical context was also relatively fresh and exciting as well. No such luck for Coldplay, on either of these counts, I should say; I more or less hated everything about them before they even played me more than a couple of bars and the cultural/musical context they arrived in was at best uninspiring by comparison.

With all this in mind, CP will probably never receive their just deserts from me. The weight of opposition is just too great and what they do just doesnt set itself apart (nor move me) enough to matter that much.

Final conclusion: Coffee table rock

(sorry about that Toffeeboy old chap! If its any consolation to you, I was ready to go back and relisten to George Best much more readily as a result of your interjections on the Spill, but Coldplay..a step too far for me)

Gaell said...

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Sarah

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ToffeeBoy said...

@ sourpus - no worries. My aim wasn't to convince anyone that Coldplay were the bees-knees but to try to understand why all the animosity and hatred. I'm not sure that I've reached that understanding yet - a band being not particularly good doesn't raise my shackles!

ToffeeBoy said...

Great to have Gaell onboard - I see a beautiful friendship developing here ...

Chris said...

Sorry to be so forceful in my comments yesterday, TB, but I don't seem to be completely on my own. It is surprising how I found myself getting more annoyed as I listened to more of the songs: as I am having to ration my broadband usage, it felt increasingly like I was throwing a valuable resource away. And now I realise that most of the tracks were from the ‘best’ album, Parachutes, I feel even more upset. I don’t actually have anything against Coldplay as a bunch of people - and I have to acknowledge Chris Martin’s willingness to be ridiculed by Ricky Gervais - but their songs (and those of Keane & co) seem like one waste of time after another. I can’t speak for most Graun readers but this is how I get annoyed by them. If I then factor in the celebrity culture thing (good-looking, famous people being celebrated for being good-looking and famous and having a child named after a fruit), a black hole starts to open up into which the talent, hard work and originality of others gets sucked and lost forever. I could really get carried away and start comparing the process to keeping the people doped up on soporific muzak so that they become less likely to embrace the new, socially and politically. The musical equivalent of getting the trains to run on time…..
Aba, as always, expresses the issue calmly and rationally and I’ll happily bow to his view. But I can’t accept that this is not Pop Music. It appeals to lots of people, has tunes that anyone can be hooked by (for better or worse), is well-produced and satisfies all the other criteria that TB has set down previously. If there is an objective definition of Pop Music, Clodplay [I originally typed that accidentally but now seem unable to correct it] embody it. As a rule, I hate the idea of labelling music by genre, but I have no hesitation here; I have much more difficulty putting Microdisney or EBTG in the same place.

Abahachi said...

Coldplay embody pop music? I get the impression, Chris, that you tend to come from the direction that pop music is superficial and trivial in comparison to the stuff you prefer, and so tend to use the label in a fairly negative way, whereas I would argue that pop can be superficial and trivial - and can be great precisely because of that - but it isn't always, and it certainly isn't always bad in comparison to 'proper music'. This may well mean that there isn't the faintest hope of us ever agreeing on this...

Of course, by pursuing this argument to the bitter end, I'm effectively putting myself on the spot, because I can hardly assert that Coldplay are (in my view) not really pop without venturing some sort of definition, something that I've been avoiding so far. Tempting to try to sidestep this by going back to TB's Task#1, and the lists that various people put forward of artists and records that were undeniably pop: Blondie, Bangles, Coldplay, Roxy Music, Spice Girls - spot the odd one out, and I think they would continue to look very odd in a list ten times the length.

What I suggested back in January was that we might do this by having a list of characteristics associated with pop; it's not necessary for a song to possess them all, but usually a sufficient number would make it pop. For example:

A tune you can sing to yourself or whistle while doing housework. (Coldplay: nope, not even the tracks I quite like, and more to the point I can't easily imagine many other people singing them unselfconsciously).

A song that would go down well at the sort of crummy disco one used to attend in teenage years. (Coldplay: can't really imagine it. U2 songs never worked in my day, whereas the Smiths did it every time).

Sounds incredibly simple and off-the-cuff, but frequently isn't when you examine it closely (whereas Coldplay songs seem to me to sound complex and sophisticated but actually are incredibly simple, just over-produced).

Okay, so all of this is incredibly subjective, but do we imagine that Chris Martin thinks of himself as producing pop? Or that most of his audience think of it as pop? So why is this label actually being applied at all? We agreed that pop didn't have to be popular; the corrolary is surely that popular doesn't necessarily mean pop.

Japanther said...

on the "pop" debate, I agree wholeheartedly with Abahachi. "Pop" shouldn't be a pejorative and doesn't necessarily have to be popular per se. Also, I would also agree that Clodplay are not pop, but yer basic meat'n'potatoes indie rock. Good to have you back Aba. the voice of reason as always!

Abahachi said...

You would not believe the effort involved in my trying to be reasonable about Coldplay...

ToffeeBoy said...

@ Chris - feel free to be as forceful as you wish - you are among friends!

@ Abahachi - brilliantly put as always - and I could almost feel the restraint in every word you wrote!

Your third definition of a pop characteristic is one I hope to expand on in future Tasks as I can think of two or three of my personal favourites who certainly embody the sounds-simple-but-it-ain't spirit of 'good' pop music. But I'm not sure that it's a defining characteristic - I think the point is more that musical complexity doesn't stop it being pop.

We may just have to 'park' the matter of whether Clodplay (love it, Chris!) are 'pop' or not - I would say they are pop because I think that they do meet enough of Aba's pop characteristics. For example, I found myself singing Viva La Vida to myself almost all day yesterday.

Going back to Aba's list of acts put forward as 'undeniably pop':

Blondie, Bangles, Coldplay, Roxy Music, Spice Girls

I agree that Coldplay stand out. But isn't possible that part of the reason you/we perceive them differently is as much to do with the following list:

1978-80, 1986-88, 2000-09, 1973-75 (80-81), 1996-98

Now, can you spot the odd one out? In case you haven't worked out the significance of the dates, they are the periods in which the above groups reached the zenith of their commercial success. Isn't it possible that you/we find it difficult to see Coldplay in the same light because of the lack of distance of time - because when the other acts were around they were 'ours' - how can someone in their 40s or 50s possibly feel connected to a successful group of today? Isn't it just possible that the Coldplays, Keanes, Snow Patrols and Kaiser Chiefs of today are just the same as The Whos, The Stones and The Kinks of the 60s?

Abahachi said...

Girls Aloud, Katy Perry, Mika, Scissor Sisters, Coldplay...

"Isn't it just possible that the Coldplays, Keanes, Snow Patrols and Kaiser Chiefs of today are just the same as The Whos, The Stones and The Kinks of the 60s?"

Not in any world that I want to inhabit.

So, can we look forward to Task#4 next week?

Blimpy said...

.

Chris said...

Whilst I do agree with Blimpy's comment I do just have to make it clear that I don't see 'Pop Music' as a pejorative term. I would classify early Beatles as Pop, Abba too. There can be skill involved in producing a good Pop record and I can admire and enjoy that. As I think I implied before, Clodplay give Pop Music a bad name as the music is so uninventive.
If you compare the output of the modern and sixties bands that TB listed, it isn't hard to see the creative gap.

tincanman said...

One of the characteristics of pop, I think, is that it is very much 'of the moment'. It's disposable, a commodity to be traded like this year's jeans fashion. Otherwise it's creators, like classical composers, would spend their whole lives on 5 or 6 pieces.

Shoegazer said...

Another characteristic might be you find yourself singing it in the shower. Nice to see Chris having the same difficulties with this that he put me through with the Dead. good thread again - only 9 episodes left to sort it all out.

Chris said...

Ah, yes, young shoey, where did you get to with the Dead homework I gave you a couple of terms ago? I haven't seen your report on my desk yet. ;-)

goneforeign said...

This is such a complex and all encompassing topic, I'd love to have contributed but it would have entailed an Aba style essay on a topic I know little about but of which of course I hold strong opinions, some might say biases. I can't deal with it now so I hope it will continue in a future post. Not specifically concerned with Coldplay but with the concept of pop music and how it's evolved over the years.

tincanman said...

As I was drifting off to sleep last night I was thinking about Toffee's subject here ands the two Aidan Moffat albums discussed above, and I think they meld because my album of the week is I Can Hear Your Heart , and while people agree it is a keeper, it his neweer album, How To Get To Heaven From Scotland, that is more popular.
I got thinking that it is like going to the used bookshop and coming home with a Graham Greene and an Agatha Christie. You'll read and enjoy both, but in five years the Graham Greene will still be on your shelf and the Agatha Christie will be in its second or third car boot sale.
Not to hijack this post, but I'll stick with I Can Hear Your Heart and Graham Green. Nothing at all wrong with Agatha Christie or How To Get To Heaven From Scotland - both well done, excellently crafted. But pop, not art.

Abahachi said...

Interesting analogy, because of course Greene's books covered a wide range of styles and genres, including some (often but not always labelled 'entertainments') that were definitely 'popular' - Our Man in Havana being a key example, while Brighton Rock took pop elements (gangster films) and turned them into art. Agatha Christie as mass-produced, throwaway pop, certainly, but Greene as the Roxy Music of the thriller world?

tincanman said...

And he was always clear - with his readers, but more importantly with himself - which was which.

ToffeeBoy said...

I wasn't going to make any further comments on this - I've said all I wanted to say for the time being (and I noted blimpy's full stop) - but I thought tincanman's literature analogy was too good to let go. It occurred to me that Charles Dickens is probably the greatest ever writer of 'pop' fiction.

Task #4 next week all being well and, you never know, there may be another ToffeeBean just around the corner ...

Frogprincess said...

Hey Toffee - can I vote Thackeray in too? Vanity Fair was published in installments. The guy was writing soap operas before they were invented...
Need to hear TracyK on this - you out there?

ToffeeBoy said...

@ fp - absolutely - Thackeray's in, as are George Eliot and Thomas Hardy (Hardy as the Morrissey of Victorian novelists?)

TracyK said...

Have followed this discussion with interest, though as ever I find myself being swayed much like the guy in the Fast Show sketch.

I appreciate the lit analogy too: FP, Vanity Fair is one of my faves, Thackeray so coolly dispassionate. Becky is really a modern heroine and would have eaten Bridget bloody Jones alive. Hardy, despite his frequent slides into melodrama remained distanced from his characters, where I find Dickens to be gloopily sentimental and far too willing to waste words. If Hardy is Morrissey, what would Dickens be? Razorlight? Or even...ta dah! Coldply?

Frogprincess said...

Wow - some great cross referencing between posts there! Respect!

Frogprincess said...

And Toffee if you haven't heard the Elbow album I'd be willing to bet large sums of money that you'll adore it...

steenbeck said...

Oh no!! I looooove DIckens and the Smiths and I'm not a fan of Hardy & Coldplay. I think DIckens is criminally misrepresented. He's verbose, it's true, and syrupy at times, but he's got so much black humor and biting political commentary that seems sadly overlooked. Lordy, I love DIckens I wish he'd written more novels for me to read. And Hardy, I think is self-indulgent, humorless, sexless... Whereas Morrissey--very very funny. In fact, upon headachey reflection (3 days now, and not budging for nothin') I'd go the opposite--Morrissey / Dickens, Coldplay / Hardy.

Sorry, don't mean to be contentious. I'll blame it on the headache.

TracyK said...

Hardy sexless?! Have you read Tess?! As my fantastic lecturer at uni (now a well-known author, Patricia Duncker) pointed out, Hardy is always looking into her mouth, putting things in her mouth, penetrating the skin...You can also read some lovely knowing role-reversal in his The Distracted Preacher, where the golden haired, downy skinned virginal preacher is led seriously astray by the vivacious, sexually experienced, widowed smuggler, Lizzie. After having their faces pressed together at a window and then no kiss she goes to bed crying in frustration while he tosses and turns all night. Even my Year 10s understood that! There's a lot to be read into the Victorians in terms of sexual symbolism, it's a fascinating subject.

I find Dickens humourless and cold, myself, but then again, horses for courses, innit?

treefrogdemon said...

I'm with you on Dickens v Hardy, steenbeck - I adore Dickens (except Pickwick Papers, which I've never got on with) and can't abide Hardy - the novels that is: I like the poems. Hardy's people are soooo pigheaded and always make such obviously wrong choices I just want to scream at them.

The most enjoyable time I've had in a play was David Edgar's stage version of Nicholas Nickleby. I played Mrs Squeers, the most evil person in the whole shebang. Yay, I love being evil.

steenbeck said...

Hey, you were in Nicholas Nickleby? Wow! Wow wow! I saw it on stage in NYC. It was good fun. Half in the afternoon, then a break for dinner, then the rest at night.

TracyK, I've read a lot of Hardy, including Tess (I was an english major) and I know there's sex in it, but I find it completely unsexy. I feel the same way about DH Lawrence, who just makes me angry. For Hardy, it's, I don't know, it's as though it's written by someone who has never had sex, and is trying to imagine what other people find sexy. As you said, though, chacun a son gout, or however that's meant to be spelled. Spelt?

Frogprincess said...

Oh my God TFD You were in THAT performance of Nicholas Nickleby? Early 80s RSC? I also saw it on stage at the Newcastle Theatre Royal. Were you in that one? Wonderful piece of theatre. My dad took me and we both loved it. Glad steenbeck saw it too. Fancy!!!

ToffeeBoy said...

So ... Coldplay ... ermm ...

Actually, I'm loving the literary discussions - I'm the living proof that it's possible to love Dickens and Hardy and Eliot - but not Lawrence - just never got him - for me, Lawrence is Dylan.

If I could take only one book to my Desert Island it would be Great Expectations - absolutely flawless. I could also read Jude The Obscure countless times but I probably wouldn't want to have it on the island - not if I was on my own, anyway...

ToffeeBoy said...

@ tfd - I'm hugely impressed with your thespian past (and present?)

TracyK said...

Heheh, I never am sure about spellt either. With you on the DH Laurence, it's so bloody unsexy and tiresome. You know, when I got to uni I thought it'd be people passionately defending this or that author and rigorous debate and such, but all I found was people with no opinions and little passion and very often, no common sense: very much as Kate Atkinson describes in Emotionally Weird. Bet we would have had some fascinating debates in the union bar!

ToffeeBoy said...

Did anyone ever take up mine and Tracy's recommendation of Kate Atkinson's Behind The Scenes At The Museum?

And returning to music for a minute, yes, fp, I have the latest Elbow CD and yes, I love it. But, I'm obsessed with The Decemberists at the moment and don't have time to isten to anything else ...

glasshalfempty said...

The talents of the RR Cru are amazing. Yes tfd, I'm looking at you. As I was from row 6 at Stratford. Great production...and seems like half of RR wuz there!

tincanman said...

@ Toffeeboy
Just cause TFD doesn't have a boyfriend and likes folk music doesn't mean she's a thespian.

treefrogdemon said...

no, no, guys, I never got as far as the RSC (though I would've if I could've). But ours was the first amateur production of NN, and David Edgar came to see it and afterwards told us that we were the best amateur company he'd seen and as good as any professional company he'd worked with. So that included the RSC of course.

goneforeign said...

TFD: You should have kept quiet about that last bit a bit longer and soaked up the adulation, mention it next week perhaps? I couldn't believe the co-incidences going on here, everyone here all sitting in the same row. You know these recent posts have been very revealing about our group, we're a rather interesting and unique group that a sociologist might find of interest.
I'll dond Tin's comment re thespians, not that there's anything wrong with them, we're all broadminded hereabouts?

treefrogdemon said...

I was tempted to keep quiet, gf, but people would only have had to google to find out it was Juliet Stevenson!

Chris said...

tfd: I had convinced myself, through extensive google/wiki/imdb research, that you were Suzanne Bertish, who has also been in Rome and Corrie. Fortunately, I haven't yet shouted that from the rooftops...

But I'm still impressed if you've impressed David Edgar!

Frogprincess said...

I had her down as Suzanne Bertish too. Kudos TFD!!!!