Coldplay, Royal Albert Hall, review: Chris Martin can't mask band's limitations

A good night for the vast majority of uber fans, but not this one
  • @robhastings

I have a confession: I used to be one of them. I used to be a Coldplay fan.

It’s a confession because I know what it’s like to be judged mercilessly over such uncool and middle-of-the-road music taste. Admitting I’m a U2 fan - yes - often generates revulsion and incredulity. But a sigh of pity seems to be the most common reaction to any statement of support for Chris Martin’s music.

I don’t just mean I was a casual listener. I still remember the sense of anticipation at holding Parachutes in my hand after walking to Enfield’s HMV (RIP) on a wet evening after school to buy the album.

I spent plenty of money going to see the band live at Earls Court and Crystal Palace, and if I delve into my iTunes I’ll find a collection of too many old Coldplay B-sides to mention. Back as a teenager - in the dark days of 2000, after Britpop but before The Libertines - their music spoke to me like little else.

And then, quite suddenly after a few years of devotion, I fell out of love with them. Was it that horribly out-of-tune vocal at the beginning of "Fix You" that made me snap out of it? Or  maybe, when singing along to Coldplay lyrics, I realised they are either meaningless or just too plain. Perhaps it was simply my musical horizons widening as I listened to the Bowie back catalogue and dynamic new bands like Arcade Fire. Anyway, I moved on.

I write all this because there’s no point pretending we - Coldplay and I, the lapsed fan - don’t have history as I head to the Royal Albert Hall to watch them again, after all these years. I’m no impartial critic. But if love of a band feels personal, so too does a fandom break-up. And I really do want to relive the good times we had.

Here, I must fully concede that it’s a good night for the vast majority of uber fans at this gig. They scream when the band comes on stage and look ecstatic even when Coldplay open with the ponderous "Always In My Head". The floor shakes as they jump up and down to that Paralympics theme tune - you know the one - and the other very generic-sounding newer songs. They sway, they wave their mobiles in the air, as "The Scientist" begins. They would give this gig five stars. My my, it would be nice to be able to enjoy this band like them again.

Instead, I feel like a former church member who has somehow wandered into a happy-clappy mass years after discovering the cynical joys of atheism.

Are the people around me brainwashed? No. Some of their joys are familiar. Chris Martin is engaging as ever, whirling around the intimate ‘in the round’ stage sited below streams of light-up stars. When the rockier songs come along, drummer Will Champion bashes his instruments as hard and loud as any heavy metal man with sticks. The innovation of a laser harp played by bassist Guy Berryman is intriguing. And when I tap my hand along to "Everything’s Not Lost", the title feels symbolic.

But one moment stands out. When the piano riff to "Clocks" begins, for a moment I almost feel a shiver go down my spine like years ago - until I remember the instrumental cover version I had to listen to for ages while on hold on the phone to a gas company last week. For the few tracks on show tonight that have songwriting substance, like "Clocks", that substance feels past its sell-by date.

I wanted to be won over again. It was nice while it lasted, but it wasn't to be.