Twenty years on, Coldplay refuses to take its 'voice' seriously; their versatility and collabs have kept the band alive

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Twenty years on, Coldplay refuses to take its 'voice' seriously; their versatility and collabs have kept the band alive
© Provided by Firstpost Twenty years on, Coldplay refuses to take its ‘voice’ seriously; their versatility and collabs have kept the band alive

In #TheMusicThatMadeUs, senior journalist Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri chronicles the impact that musicians and their art have on our lives, how they mould the industry by rewriting its rules and how they shape us into the people we become: their greatest legacies.

It is really hard to pin down the Coldplay sound. Barring the unmistakable melancholia in Chris Martin’s vocals that has transcended both time and genres, the band has mastered the art of reinvention. Their peers and the bands that have followed in their footsteps have consistently credited Coldplay for this. It may have, over time, annoyed some sections of their fans but Coldplay’s ability to morph into different soundscapes cannot be overstated.

Nine albums in 21 years have meant that their fans have been on an almost interstellar sonic ride that continues to miraculously have its finger on the pulse. When they burst into the scene in 2000-2001, they were debuting at a time when the music scene was welcoming a new millennium with sounds that pushed the limits of genres. Artists like The Strokes, 3 Doors Down, Pink, and Linkin Park made their debut that year, setting the foundation for bands like The Killers and Audioslave to follow.

If the ’90s were dominated by the alt rock movement, the turn of the millennium set out a blank slate for the debutant/es to exploit their first mover advantage. Many bands were still reeling from the grunge/nu metal hangover of the ’90s but Coldplay presented itself as a fine mix of the distortion-rich guitar of the previous decade and the heartfelt-pop optimism of a new one. In his own words, Martin moved from “trying to sound like Eddie Vedder for three years to being influenced by Jeff Buckley.”

Till date, the one thing that Coldplay have going brilliantly for them is how despite being a British band, they are not typecast by the typical Brit pop/rock mould we are accustomed to. We could spot the Brit in Oasis or The Verve from across continents. If you take their accents out of the equation, Coldplay, however, could literally be any band from around the world. This fluidity widens their appeal, roots of which can be seen even in their debut album Parachutes (2000). Keeping with the alt rock sound so prevalent at the time, Coldplay combined elements of melodic pop to create an identity that gave profound depth to pop, and took the habitual weightiness off rock.

In the subsequent albums like A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002) and X&Y (2005), the band veered towards grander, electronic sounds, turning darker in parts, and blended tinny synth with thumping guitar work typical of modern rock. With Vida La Loca or Death and All His Friends (2008), Coldplay took its first turn towards experimental sounds that had Baroque, Latin, Middle Eastern and Oriental influences, continuing to dabble with art rock and ambient modern experiences. If you thought that set their template, they released Mylo Xyloto in 2011 as a rock opera concept album, featuring a more upbeat pop rock sound with dance elements that remains their mainstay till date.

Even though the 2014 Ghost Stories was a darker, more melancholic minimalist concept album, they returned with A Head Full of Dreams the following year, that was in stark contrast to the sombre sounds. Decidedly pop with bright and uplifting tones, the album saw a generous blend of disco and funk, featuring cheery collaborations with Big Sean, The Chainsmokers and Brian Eno. In the 2019 album Everyday Life, Coldplay managed to finally cross one frontier of rock music: profanity. Kosher in their approach so far, an angst-ridden Martin can no longer hide his furious lament over the consequences of war in the song ‘Guns‘ from the same album.

Their ninth album Music of the Spheres, which released on 15 October, is a reminder that Coldplay are not only one of the best-selling bands of all time; they are also incredibly business-savvy… even if it is at the cost of creative gratification. In recent years, many fans have wondered why Coldplay is increasingly collaborating with other major mainstream artists like Rihanna, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and now BTS, “diluting” their core identity in the process.

It is worth noting that their collaborations have been with the most commercially viable contemporary names oftentimes, lending credibility to furious Reddit forum fan club theories. Frequently, we hear today that the current Coldplay is far removed from the one that gave us most poignant tunes to our innermost feelings; that it lacks the ability to give our introspection a definitive soundtrack.

But Coldplay has, through the course of 20 years, constantly shifted their own idea of what makes them who they are, and it is us fans who have not been ready to embrace that. Their peers like The Killers, Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Rammstein, John Mayer, and even Mumford and Sons have acknowledged that Coldplay’s ability to let itself go in the direction of their inspiration, and not be confined by their perception of themselves, has created a rich multi-genre legacy. You can see traces of Coldplay’s euphoric grandeur in Sheppard’s music, and their style of introspective pop in HER’s. The Script is often called Dublin’s answer to Chris Martin while Leona Lewis’ songwriting is rather reminiscent of Coldplay’s.

They have moved from sounding mopey to cheerful, celestial to bubble glum (ie cheery while being sad. It is a Coldplay brand of sadness that combines the heart of a Nirupa Roy with the wardrobe of a Ranveer Singh).

Their versatility may make them hard to pin down, and their compulsive collaborations with the most popular flavour of the season can seem irksome, but the fact that they have constantly reached out to trending artists across genres has only meant that the roster of artists inspired by them has widened. And we could all do with more generations of musicians who find meaning and influences from life, the universe, and everything.

Senior journalist Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri has spent a good part of two decades chronicling the arts, culture and lifestyles.

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