From 'Parachutes' through 'Ghost Stories.'
by Liam Mathews
It probably kinda sucks to be Coldplay. They just wanna be the best band in the world, but they can't pull it off. First they wanted to be Radiohead, but they debuted the year Radiohead stopped being a rock band and made Coldplay look like tryhards. So they had to settle for being a less musically ambitious, dumber version, Radiohead for Squares. Then they wanted to be U2, which with the messianic frontman and soapbox politics and Brian Eno, was a more attainable goal. But cool kids don't like U2, and The Arcade Fire has been out-U2-ing Coldplay and U2 for years now.
On their newly released album, Ghost Stories, almost 20 years into their career, Coldplay learned that the kids like this Avicii dance music stuff, so they're doing that. It's like a middle-aged man growing a ponytail to stay hip. But even though Coldplay is uncool and not as good as they want to be, they're still actually good. You don't get to be the biggest rock band in a world that no longer likes rock bands by not knowing what you're doing. Coldplay can fill an arena, both physically and sonically. Here are their six studio albums, from "this dude sounds like a dog who sees a squirrel through the window" to "this is an anthem."
6. X&Y (2005)
This is what a transitional album sounds like. Between the sweeping but intimate alt-rock of A Rush of Blood to the Head and the love & war grandiosity of Viva la Vida, Coldplay was stuck between their Radiohead phase and their U2 phase. "Speed of Sound" is their most grating single. Despite its blandness, X&Y has sold over 13 million copies.
5. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)
Viva la Vida seems destined to become one of those albums that was enormous when it came out but nobody listens to anymore. This was the top-selling album in the world in 2008, purchased by more than 10 million souls, but it's mostly memorable because of an iTunes commercial. Viva la Vida was produced by true musical genius Brian Eno, who had participated in the making of about a dozen of the best albums of all time, including U2's The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. This is not one of those albums.
4. Mylo Xyloto (2011)
Mylo Xyloto is Coldplay's concept album. Apparently it tells the story of an Orwellian society where color and sound are suppressed by the government. Whatever. Like all rock operas, the plot is completely inscrutable, but the production is excellent. More electronic instruments were added, and it sounds expansively Eno in a way that Viva la Vida didn't nail, even though Eno didn't produce this one. The intro to "Paradise" is the closest Coldplay has gotten to sounding like post-Kid A Radiohead, with some Elton John piano mixed in.
3. Ghost Stories (2014)
The newest one, Ghost Stories, is Coldplay's divorce album, inspired by Chris Martin's conscious uncoupling from his wife Gwyneth Paltrow. It has a refreshing lack of bombast for Coldplay. Martin is better when he's looking inward rather than outward, and Ghost Stories is mopey and relatively low-key. It's their most electronic album to date. "Midnight" sounds like Bon Iver's "The Wolves" and "A Sky Full of Stars" turned out about as well as a Coldplay-Avicii collaboration could have.
2. Parachutes (2000)
Looking back on Parachutes now, it's a charmingly humble debut for a band whose singer would go on to marry a movie star and sell a bajillion albums. Just some guys with guitars and drums playing Britpop, trying to figure out how to make The Bends. "Shiver" has a bunch of memorable melodies, and their breakthough hit "Yellow," as cheesy as it is, has a great guitar sound.
1. A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)
I have nothing snarky to say about this album. "In My Place" is a beautiful pop-rock song, "The Scientist" is a heartwrenching ballad with a classic music video, and "Clocks" is the propulsive, unforgettable anthem that will soundtrack montages and commercials until the end of time. The quality of this album is what keeps us listening to Coldplay even though we make fun of them for being wusses.
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