Posts Tagged ‘Coldplay’

In this very exciting new feature, regular workin’ stiffs just like you (and Mitt Romney) ask for my opinion and regret it later!

Dear Run-DMSteve,
There are small moments in songs – a guitar riff, a single lyric, a repeated refrain – that resonate so strongly that I have an overpowering emotional reaction to them. As I was driving to work this morning, I heard Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.” It came out in 1968, when I was 11 years old. I have no idea why I was so moved by the music/lyric combination of “And I need you more than want you/and I want you for all time/and the Wichita lineman/is still on the line.”

Any thoughts?
–Accused of Lurking 

Dear Lurking,
Here’s a specific thought: Glen Campbell had a good voice, not in the Sinatra or Tony Bennett league or in the second rank with Bobby Darin, but about on a par with Dean Martin. That’s not a slam. Dino and Glen knew how to use what they had to the fullest. (Sinatra was so phenomenal that he could goof off in a song and still sound good.) Like Martin, Campbell almost never got anything great to sing. That’s one of the reasons “Wichita Lineman” stands out among his recordings. It’s a terrific song and he puts everything into it, but in his Glen Campbellian, low-key way. The arrangement is a sort of countrified Nelson Riddle, but it works here, perhaps because Campbell sings like an Everyman. The words and the music enter your heart, even if you’re just 11, and the line you quote powers it all. I’d never really thought about it, but you nailed it.

Here’s a general thought: Proust thought that food was the ultimate time machine to the past, and that was probably true when music was not available for replay. You couldn’t “own” music in human history until the eye blink of the past 100 years. Now music has replaced food as the time machine. We experience them much the same, but music is more powerful. Why that is, I can’t say, as I’ve expended my philosophical budget for this question. I just know that music can make you cry. Can food? (I’m talking about food that hasn’t been prepared by my mother.)

Special D adds, “What always got me was the lift in his voice from ‘still on the…’ to ‘…li-i-ine’ followed by the telegraph-key sounds. I pictured this man’s yearning voice stretching thin, traveling the wires, and reaching his lover. That, and the masculine but non-macho poetry of ‘I need you more than want you/and I want you for all time’ just kills me.”

Keep drivin’ the main road, Lurk!

Dear Run-DMSteve,
I like to listen to the jazz station on the radio while I’m making dinner. I would never consider myself a jazz aficionado; it’s more of a relaxing backdrop while I’m concentrating on my cooking. Tonight, of course [Feb. 14], there was someone singing “My Funny Valentine.” That song has always struck me in a weird place and I can’t explain why. It always feels like the wail of a wounded animal, no matter if it’s Frank Sinatra or Elvis Costello or Rickie Lee Jones. Where does that come from?
–Perplexed Valentine Girl

Dear Perp,
“My Funny Valentine” is an odd one; it’s short, yet it packs some ambiguous meanings. “Your looks are laughable/unphotographable.” Is the singer in love with his partner despite her flaws? Does he love her for them? Is he GGG or just a manipulative asshole?

Is your figure less than Greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is Valentine’s Day

This is too close to Billy Joel territory (“She’s Always a Woman”) for me, man.

The music isn’t exactly a winner either. Your “wounded animal” description is apt. I don’t know what kind of song this is but I wouldn’t play it anywhere near Valentine’s Day.

Next year, ask for the chocolates.

Dear Run-DMSteve,
Your opinions are rubbish, mate. Did you have any experience writing music criticism before lobbing this blog at us? Or are you mucking about in blogland because someone at your paying gig gave you the boot? Have you any qualifications at all up your sleeve, or are you having us on? And just an FYI: Chris Martin rules.

Dear Sexy,
I haven’t received any training in writing about music. I can’t even read music. I’ve never written about music before, except in tenth grade when I reviewed the J. Geils Band’s Full House. I’m still proud of my lead: “Rock is rhythm.” I didn’t even know about sex yet.

It was Special D’s idea that I embark on this voyage. She knew I had run out of crafts projects. She also felt that she shouldn’t be the only person who had to listen to me babble about music. Spreading me around has taken the burden off her. I am indebted to Special D for this fab idea and she is indebted to my readers for egging me on.

I immediately set goals for my blogging career. I would be deluged with free CDs and other band merch, an all-expenses-paid trip to SXSW, and money. Crumpled singles, jars of pennies, checks with funny animals on them, and my favorite: four-figure transfers via PayPal. This didn’t happen.

However, I can report that Domino’s is making money from my blog. Every time one of their ads appears at Run-DMSteve, Loyal Reader Krafty orders one of their pizzas. I hope you’re enjoying them, Loyal Reader Krafty, because Domino’s won’t even send me a thank-you note! I can’t get anyone to pay me for an ad, and the only way to keep the ads out is to pay WordPress, which doesn’t sound like revenue generation to me (though it does to WordPress).

So you see, Sexy, I have no real qualifications beyond some spare time and the ability to type wicked fast. All I know how to do is to put things in groups and compare them. I’ve been listening to the radio all my life, and my head is brimming with everything I’ve listened to. I keep finding ways to connect the dots. Which is more than I can say for Coldplay.

I’m back in The Nervous Breakdown after a lengthy hiatus while I wrestled with my novel. So far the novel is ahead two falls to one. I might have to resort to Plan B and install a plot.

A Rush of Blood to the Head

My three regular readers know that I use the term “Coldplay” as a handy benchmark meaning “inoffensive crap.” Is the case against Coldplay really that simple? Probably, but let’s consider it anyway.

Coldplay offers expertly crafted, atmospheric soft rock that implies other, harder, kinds of music. They’re not manipulating anyone; they’re sincere. That makes them The Monkees, minus the laughs and the bouncing-puppy energy. I’m guessing that they answer a need for people to be part of something cool created by guys who look like them. That makes them The Who, without all the philosophy. If you like to rock but you secretly enjoy music that makes you float on a cloud, Coldplay rocks just enough to give you some cover. That makes them Pearl Jam with the corners sanded off.

Coldplay is often compared to U2. I admit that both bands are insanely popular, that there are four men in each group, and that all eight of them come from islands off the coast of continental Europe. The similarities stop right there. Coldplay will never be as pretentious as U2, which is a mark in their favor, but neither will they take the chances U2 took on The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby. And Coldplay seems to have skipped their hellcat period. It’s too late now for them to clobber us with their versions of War or Under a Blood Red Sky.

“Am I/a part of the cure/Or am I part of the disease?” (Coldplay, “Clocks”)
I’ve written before about guilty pleasures. Here’s another one: Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head.

The album showcases Coldplay’s strengths: Their flair for simple-yet-dramatic musical moments and their skill at constructing relatively short, punchy pop songs. Some of them are short and punchy, anyway. Unfortunately, A Rush of Blood also showcases their weaknesses, like their habit of repeating all of their simple-yet-dramatic musical moments. You can do a lot with half a dozen keys on the piano, but must it always be the same half dozen? Then there’s Coldplay’s Yes-like tendency toward bloat, and finally we have their singer, Chris Martin. Mr. Martin’s voice is breathy, high, and at times whiny. When Bono gets worked up about another issue bedeviling the world, which is every day, his voice goes striding across the land. Martin’s goes flat. It doesn’t help that he married Gwyneth Paltrow.

But man, does this album whip up a mood! At least it does in me. Playing A Rush of Blood on my headphones has made many a task zip right along. How did Coldplay win me over? My theory is that I first heard A Rush of Blood on a temporary job where I spent much of the day feeling sorry for myself. Coldplay is the band for you if you’re feeling sorry for yourself! They are melancholy without being terminal, cathartic without making you curl into a ball. They provide a valuable public service.

My conclusion on the Coldplay question is that these boys are all in their 30s. They work hard, they love their fans, and they take care of themselves. We’d better learn to live with them because they are not going away. And that makes them The Rolling Stones without all the egos.


Lady Gaga in concert
The Rose Garden, Portland, Ore.
August, 2010

This summer I won two tickets to see Lady Gaga. I was trying to win tickets to Arcade Fire. You take what you can get in this life.

Her concert lasted two hours, in which she demonstrated her ability to fill 45 minutes with good songs. The evening, a drama that could only have been choreographed by Wagner and Tolkein while both were seriously faced, included a UFO, a haunted truck, a slice of subway, a jungle gym, surreal videos, blood, trap doors, platforms shooting out of the stage, platform shoes, a burial, a resurrection, taekwondo-style dancing, and enough stilettos to stake a circus tent. And wigs, including one that looked like a mushroom cap. I want one! All we were missing were bagpipes, artillery, and a miniature version of Stonehenge.

Lady Gaga and her court, when not hurling themselves into every song at Warp 6, were busy changing clothes, except the guitar player, who took his shirt off but should have left it on. (Up in our private suite, Special D wore a white feather boa, which she occasionally loaned to admiring gay men.) In the middle innings, Gaga cooled down by playing two songs solo at the piano. Someday she’ll look back at this interlude and wish she were dead. I certainly did during her inane warbling. I give her credit for setting the piano on fire, but I take it back because the piano was not consumed.

Nevermind this acoustic crap. What about the songs that made her famous? Can she write or is she just bluffin’ with her muffin? Let’s examine the thematic material in Lady Gaga’s oeuvre. No, let’s not. Let’s confine ourselves to “Telephone”:

Situation: The singer is dancing at a club.
Problem: Everyone is calling her.
Result: She’s stressed.
Resolution: It occurred to me that she should stop answering her phone, but this hypothesis was not tested or even considered.
Lesson: Stress is bad, but stupidity makes it worse.

That leaves the actual music. Lady Gaga stuffs so many happy hooks into each song that they can’t be dislodged from the fluffy insulation inside your brain. (In that respect her sound is like the seamless, vacuum-packed assembly line that was Boston, except you can dance to it.) For 24 hours all I could hear in my head was “Poker Face.” Even while I was asleep, dreaming about dinosaurs or cheerleaders, they were dancing to “Poker Face.” At least it’s her best song.

To rid myself of this neuro-plague I counterattacked with an hour of music that was the opposite of Lady Gaga’s: thoughtful, intricate, subtle, quiet. Alas, the Cowboy Junkies are too quiet. I could still hear “Poker Face” while listening to “Sweet Jane.” What’s the next notch above the Cowboy Junkies? That would be Coldplay. But I was afraid of swapping “Poker Face” for “Yellow.” I finally hit on the freeing formula: the neo-human, glacier-fed, synthesized wall-of-drone of late-’70s David Bowie. I listened to Station to Station, Low, and Heroes. Twice. Done!

We hear a lot about Lady Gaga’s influences. There are the big names, like Queen, Kiss, and Madonna, and the lesser-known but edgier bands, like Mott the Hoople and the New York Dolls. You could even make a case for Grace Jones, at least during her disco years, and for raw chutzpah her only peer is Tiny Tim.

But to me, Lady Gaga will always be Prince in a bikini.

And yes, I enjoyed her show. Especially when they fired her out of a missile silo and she landed on her 6” heels without a waver or a wobble. How I wish I had that woman’s knees! I’d put them on eBay.