(Photo from AlbySpace/Flickr)
This is a question that has puzzled me for years. Why is Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin so sad?
Coldplay has sold more than 40 million albums. Martin owns a Grammy. His band plays pro basketball arenas when it tours the United States. His music is appreciated by fans and critics alike. By any measure, he is a success.
Off stage, the British band is politically active. It uses its fame and money to promote social causes and is said to donate 10 percent of its massive earnings to charity. Somehow it manages to do all of this without being annoying, which is another success.
To top it off, Martin is married to a talented movie star – Gwyneth Paltrow. Together they have two children, Apple and Moses, who apparently were named after, as this week’s podcast guest Jessica Glassberg pointed out, things that happened in the Bible.
The man has it all – success, relevance and family.
And yet the lyrics to Coldplay songs remain mind-bendingly weepy. They wallow in self-pity. They are the lyrics one expects from someone who is at the bottom looking up, not from someone who is at the top looking down. I write this as the owner of the first three Coldplay albums – and as someone who will not buy the fourth.
“Viva la Vida,” the first single off the band’s new album of the same name, is both beautiful and disappointing. The first time I listened to the song’s rising instrumentation, I thought, “Here we go. Coldplay is going to break out of its pattern of great melodic rock coupled with woe-is-me lyrics. This will be an uplifting song – a song of joy.” Then I heard the lyrics.
I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets that I used to own
It just gets more pathetic from there. It turns out Martin’s castles stand on pillars of salt and pillars of sand, revolutionaries wait for his head on a silver plate and he is convinced he will not go to heaven. What makes the downer lyrics even more of a downer is the fact that they are sung against a track that could be the score of a movie in which the tiny, embattled forces of good finally defeat the larger, incumbent forces of evil. The instrumentation makes me want to run across a field with a sword and stab something that breathes fire. It makes me want to live, damn it. But the lyrics say, “Wah.”
Why do I care? I am a lyric snob. I have to enjoy the lyrics to love the song. It is my bias as a word person. When a song’s lyrics match the music, it is like seeing a beautiful woman in a beautiful dress. The music is the woman and the lyrics are the dress. The dress and the woman are beautiful without each other, but the combination is stunning. If the lyrics do not work, I see the beautiful woman in sweats. She looks good, but it is harder to appreciate her total beauty when she is wearing clothes normally reserved for an off-track betting parlor. (Did I stretch that analogy thin? I could also tell you how a good poem is like a man in cargo shorts. But I won’t.)
So I look in your direction
But you pay me no attention, do you?
I like this album and didn’t mind the lyrics because they were written by a man whom the world had yet to discover. I’ll even give the band some leeway on A Rush of Blood to the Head, because it could have been written prior to the band having full knowledge of its achievement. The pity party after Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head is what I do not get. I know some individual Coldplay songs are uplifting or at least non-depressing, but the general tenor of the band’s songs remains forlorn.
(Above: A man eats pizza while thinking about Coldplay lyrics. Photo by jslander/Flickr.)
Martin meets Paltrow in 2002. They wed in 2003. It all comes together for the guy. Yet his lyrical point of view is still British Charlie Brown. Unless the guy’s life is getting worse, I find these lyrics, which are supposed to be rooted in his feelings, dishonest. If he is mining his pre-success past, this is disappointing too, because his creative point of view is frozen in time and has not evolved.
In 2005, after Martin found success both professionally and personally, Coldplay released its third album, X&Y. The first words to the hit song Speed of Sound were:
How long before I get in?
Before it starts, before I begin?
How long before you decide?
Before I know what it feels like?
Where to, where do I go?
If you never try, then you’ll never know.
How long do I have to climb,
Up on the side of this mountain of mine?
If you believe that art is an expression of the artist’s point of view, and I do, you have to ask, what could possibly cause Martin to be filled with so much melancholy? On this, I have three theories.
1. He is terminally insecure. I know people who are like this. Unhappy is their even keel. I read in Rolling Stone that Martin is a huge fan of Woody Allen and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” That makes sense. Chris Martin is the lyrical Woody Allen.
2. His band is a pain in his ass. This quote is from an article on mtv.com.
“Being in this band is just like being in a relationship,” Martin said. “Every time you have a big argument you walk out and slam the door. And then as soon as you slammed it you think, ‘Oh, why did I do that?’ Then you walk back in and have sex. Musically, that’s what we do on a daily basis. As soon as you have 10 minutes or a day away, you wake up with the bug again.”
I know bands fight, but the members of Coldplay blow up at each on a daily basis? That is not healthy. That sounds more like the 1977 New York Yankees, only with more walking back in and having sex.
3. His very talented, beautiful, powerful wife is a loon.
In a recent issue of The Onion, in the A.V. Club section, which is the only part of the paper that does not report fake news, Amelia Gillette wrote about Paltrow’s new lifestyle Web site GOOP.com. I checked it out. The Web site’s new-agey tag is “Nourish the inner aspect,” which is a good reminder, in case you have forgotten to.
GOOP.com is a place where Paltrow shares her ideas of “what makes life good” with people who do not know what makes life good. The site is devoid of meaningful or useful content. It features icons for “Make,” “Go,” “Get,” “Do,” “Be” and “See.” When you click on any of these links it takes you to the same block of text:
“My life is good because I am not passive about it. I want to nourish what is real, and I want to do it without wasting time. I love to travel, to cook, to eat, to take care of my body and mind, to work hard. I love being a mother who has to overcome my bad qualities to be a good mother. I love being in spaces that are clean and nice.”
Allow me to translate. My life is good because I am not passive about it. (Like all actors, I feel the need to mention how very active I am.) I want to nourish what is real, and I want to do it without wasting time. (I will not nourish what is imaginary, such as dolphins with butterfly wings.) I love to travel, to cook, to eat, to take care of my body and mind, to work hard. (I have time and money.) I love being a mother who has to overcome my bad qualities to be a good mother. (In order to be good, I have to not be bad.) I love being in spaces that are clean and nice. (I live in an Ikea.)
The following is Paltrow’s advice for better living, which The Onion’s Gillette hilariously called a hygiene and life-skills checklist for Alzheimer’s patients: “Make your life good. Invest in what’s real. Cook a meal for someone you love. Pause before reacting. Clean out your space. Read something beautiful. Treat yourself to something. Go to a city you’ve never been to. Learn something new. Don’t be lazy. Workout and stick with it. GOOP. Make it great.”
Right. Invest in what’s real. No more investing in butter-dolphins.
This site is Paltrow’s mission statement. It is her worldview. It represents the way she lives. It represents the way she wants others to live. It is condescending and inane.
I can see how a guy would get depressed.