Sunday, 17 January 2010

How Coldplay inadvertently defined rock n' roll

'Amsterdam', the last track off Coldplay's second album, Rush of Blood to the Head is still pretty much the yardstick by which I measure a truly timeless song. A lot of people are surprised that I like Coldplay's first two albums (they lost their way with X&Y, although the title track and a couple of others are pretty ace), but they really are pretty close to my heart. I only got into really experimental music long after I was playing it myself- in my teens, it was grunge rock, Radiohead, Muse R.E.M. and Rage all the way. To me, Coldplay, with its relative sparseness and simple, reverb-laden guitar melodies, was from another planet- it was the reason i first bought a delay pedal, in any case, and it's that path that eventually led me to Shoegazing as a genre.

But enough autobiographical babble. What's the deal with this song? From the first reverb-drenched burst of noise, it makes my blood run cold. Just the combination of Chris Martin (let's forget personalities here, and focus on the music) and a piano, simple, almost childish lyrics about losing the plot- "I swerve out of control" and being out of love "my star is fading/I see no chance of release/I know I'm dead on the s
urface/but I am screaming underneath" are universal enough that anybody at some time in their life can connect with them. We all feel completely shat on sometimes, and then, just when you're crushed by just how fucking depressing this song is, it all comes together.

At 3:58 the drums and guitar come in. Guitar chords with mild delay and overdrive, played Ramones-style, entirely in downstrokes; it's an aggression that absolutely breaks the bonds of what came before it. Most other bands I listened to at the time, or since, would have had to create a wall of distortion and start shouting to get the same impact, but with Coldplay it's something as subtle as playing in downstrokes; Chris Martin doesn't even alter his delivery one bit, knowing that the words will do the work for him:

Stuck on the end
Of this ball and chain
I'm on my way back down
Stood on the edge
Tied to the noose
Sick to the stomach
You can say what you mean
But it won't change the scene
I'm sick of the secrets
Stood on the edge
Tied to the noose
But you came along
And you cut me loose

Feel free to call me a schmaltz-loving freak with no taste, I don't care. If you can't lose yourself in that when it's on your stereo with the volume turned all the way up, then you'll never understand rock n' roll.

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