It’s easy to lose track of actual release dates up here in the ivory tower, but I believe tomorrow is the day that Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” finally comes out. Hence, I guess, the exponential ramping-up of all the furrowed-brow pontificating that seems to be going on about the band all over the internet today, provoked in many places by Andy Gill’s 2,000-word assassination of the band in this morning’s copy of The Independent.

It’s easy to lose track of actual release dates up here in the ivory tower, but I believe tomorrow is the day that Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” finally comes out. Hence, I guess, the exponential ramping-up of all the furrowed-brow pontificating that seems to be going on about the band all over the internet today, provoked in many places by Andy Gill’s 2,000-word assassination of the band in this morning’s copy of The Independent.



Not wanting to belittle the cultural/commercial importance of this album too much, I do wonder whether there are better things to do with that amount of newspaper real estate besides filling it with so much, admittedly eloquent, vitriol.

I’m not, as regular readers would probably guess, exactly a paid-up fan of Coldplay, though I was quite impressed by an arena show in Birmingham circa “Rush Of Blood To The Head” (I also watched Chris Martin do his warm-up exercises whilst hid under a dressing-room table in Japan, but that’s another story). I’m deeply sceptical of Brian Eno’s reputation as a great, artist-stretching producer, at least over the past couple of decades. From the three or four listens I’ve had to “Viva La Vida”, the general cosmic banality of Chris Martin’s lyrics is undoubtedly irritating: as Alexis Petridis notes in his review, “I have a terrible feeling that ‘42’ is a reference to the meaning of life in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, thus raising the prospect that their next album might include songs called ‘This Is An Ex-Parrot’ and ‘I Invented It In Camberwell And It Looks Like a Carrot’.”

But something rankles about all the disdain, not least Andy’s assertion that “I have never encountered one person who has a kind word to say about Coldplay.” It strikes me that Coldplay have wandered into a sort of critical interzone where they’re used as a cipher for all the ills of the world, the most heinous of all being a nebulous pleasantness, perceived as anathema to the vigorous love-me-or-hate-me energies of rock’n’roll.

What bugs me most here is a sense that there is a proscribed expectation of what rock should be: “Rock’n’roll used to be a rallying cry, a clarion call; now, in their hands, it’s just a palliative,” writes Gill.

Well, for one thing, rock’n’roll used to be Cliff Richard; for Simon Cowell there used to be Larry Parnes. Any binary argument built on the presumption that music is endemically softer, more malleable and more commercialised than it used to be doesn’t always stand up to the tightest analysis.

Secondly, why shouldn’t some rock’n’roll be a palliative? Does it all need to sound like the first Stooges album (though even that featured an anti-punk dirge, “We Will Fall”, of course), fun as that might be? Isn’t there room for a wider range of light and shade – even for an expensively lustrous shade of grey – under the ‘rock’n’roll’ banner? There’s a perilous risk of condemning music not so much for its quality, but because you don’t particularly like the sort of people – don’t even know those sort of people, perhaps – who like it.

I am, naturally, just as distrustful of the opposite critical response: that if millions of people like Coldplay, then they must be good. But listening to “Viva La Vida” raises a few interesting questions to me about what makes a record so massively appealing. Chris Martin’s small genius, it seems to me, is to borrow the packaging of sundry other bands – U2, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, even My Bloody Valentine – and then plant, within that familiar framework, a pretty fresh sense of melody. It’s at once epic and yet approachable (in a way which U2, for instance, never are), simultaneously a little gauche, yet instantly memorable. They’re the sort of melodies that get on my nerves very quickly, but hang around a lot longer.

It’s as if Martin’s stumbled on the perfect formula to sell millions. Why worry too much about anything original, other than the melody? It’s hardly a formula to appease those who demand that rock constantly reasserts its revolutionary potential, perpetually grapples to reinvent itself.

But then expecting so much of music means you’re going to be constantly disappointed by it. And, I guess, you’re going to have to overlook a massive pantheon of great music that is happily untroubled by its lack of so much reductive ardour. Coldplay aren’t part of that pantheon, from where I sit, but it really doesn’t bother me that plenty of other people think they are.

In other words (698 of them): why worry? And, contradicting what I’ve just said about Chris Martin’s melodic sensibility, is it just me who thinks “Cemeteries Of London” is oddly reminiscent of “The Old Main Drag” by The Pogues?

And also: I should write about some records I really like soon. . .