The Kraftwerk allusions, the Brian Eno productions, the “experimental” new directions: the propaganda which comes with each new Coldplay album would make you think they were a major rock band.
But as they break in their fifth, Mylo Xyloto, at the O2 Arena in front of 20,000 excited, adoring fans, it becomes obvious this is a category error. Chris Martin writes songs which Take That would kill for. The self-revelation and transformation of listeners some still expect of rock music never happens. Coldplay are the lightest entertainment.
They are honest workers, though, and try so athletically hard. As “Hurts Like Heaven” opens the show, wristbands handed out with tickets glow in green, white and red, making the crowd look like Christmas lights. Two songs later, giant balloons drop from the roof, kicked open by singer Chris Martin to reveal confetti crosses. Two songs after that, they wheel out the confetti-cannons. Special effects are reinforced by physical ones. Martin makes regular running leaps down a gangway, looking posed for action photos in mid-air. But amidst this huffing and puffing, no excitement is actually coming off the stage. When Jonny Buckland and Martin circle each other on springy feet, they are equally ungainly and uncharismatic. Buckland’s lead guitar borrows U2’s sound, but does nothing with it.
Beneath the show’s eager to please bluster, what strikes me with increasing force is the repetition and weakness of Martin’s songs. From the solipsism of their first inescapable hit, “Yellow”, where the stars themselves “shine for you”, there is no lyric of mature realisation. Every song is other-directed, constructed for mass, mild elevation. Not a word suggests a real emotion of Martin’s as if, locked in a celebrity bubble early, he can’t locate them, and stopped learning long ago. “I will wait for you,” he sings on “In My Place”, straight from a Hollywood movie. “Nobody said it was easy,” he adds on “The Scientist”. Nobody except Coldplay.
“Paradise” has their most inanely catchy chorus yet (“para-para-dise...”), and is a study of a woman who as a young girl believed in heaven, and, naturally, regains her dreams. But in Coldplay songs we’re always in heaven, where no suffering lasts. All they lack is the grit that makes artistic pearls. The crowd leave happy, because Coldplay have helped lower our expectations of pop. It’s got to be better than this.