When you come to appraise the 20+ years of Coldplay material on offer – music written by the four people who forced the world to invent new synonyms for “heartbreak” – a study of every single Coldplay track actually teases out much more nuance and variety than the straightforward moans and groans of some of the saddest guys in the business might suggest.
Comprising of Will Champion on drums, Jonny Buckland on guitar, Guy Berryman on bass and Chris Martin on vocals – and, when he fancies it, guitar, piano and whatever else he can find — Coldplay have often been cocky, sometimes political but always furiously fascinating. From embracing indie rock to trying out nu jazz — and dipping their toes into electropop and EDM as well — they’ve also always been hungry to have a go at anything and everything when they get to it in the studio.
To celebrate 20 years since the release of their still-great debut album ‘Parachutes’ on July 10, 2000, behold: a full, colourful, impassioned ranking of every single Coldplay song to date.
Some criteria before we get going: instrumentals are allowed and included, as long as they are not purely transitional or recycling the loops of another full track. But we’ve banned all unreleased tracks, included no covers and counted nothing from ‘Los Unidades’ (which is probably for the best). Hidden tracks, however, are allowed and celebrated, as are charity and festive offerings.
Here then, ranked in order of greatness from worst to best, is Coldplay.
With additional words from Andrew Trendell, El Hunt, Hannah Mylrea and Sam Moore
142X Marks the Spot (2015)
The perfect example of a song hidden for a reason, ‘X Marks the Spot’ is plagued by a lugubrious, mechanical beat that dulls and irritates the brain at the same time. Wrong key, terrible tone. Keep it undiscovered.
A cacophony of clanging pots, a bland bassline, Kylie Minogue’s guest vocals at their most strident, Chris’ distorted into what sounds like a CD player put through the washing machine. Too low, too slow, not doing anyone any favours.
140Something Just Like This (2017)
It’s frustrating that this atrocity can’t be entirely blamed on The Chainsmokers – their formulaic keys, soulless claps and perfectly processed electro-pop. Martin is, sadly, singing that generic title line over and over, as it rubs against the sandpapery hook that may as well be played on a kazoo. Ghastly.
139Miracles (Someone Special) (2017)
Coldplay have always known their way around some lovely chord structures, which is why for it to be drowned out by a generically R&B drum beat – fine for others, cringe for Coldplay – is just disappointing.
138A L I E N S (2017)
Stuttering percussion entirely at odds with the effortful smooth vocals, Martin extrapolates various lines about extraterrestrials on a track that you could imagine underscoring, very specifically, the moment in a sci-fi coming-of-age film where the kid travels through a tunnel at the speed of light, or something.
It’s no secret that if you dislike ‘X&Y’, you’re probably right, because Coldplay have always said how much they dislike the album too. While the record did give some all-timers, the title track epitomises what went wrong with this record. Too many falsettos, unconvincing loops, a clinical, mopey delivery. The sort of Coldplay track that people who hate Coldplay think it all sounds like.
Stubbornly simple lyrics and an unnecessary vocal echo prevent ‘Hypnotised’ from reaching its full potential. Those piano chords are familiar, but the overall production is burdened by the artificiality of the whole ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ era that relegates this one to the archives.
135Mooie Ellebogen (2002)
Written as a challenge in 2002, just to see if they could do it, ‘Mooie Ellebogen’ has the merit of proving that language is no barrier to a perfectly adequate Coldplay song. They’ll still be earnest until the end, even when singing about “beautiful elbows”. Thirty seconds of acoustic guitar that sounds like some kind of nursery rhyme – it’s still somehow (marginally) better than a lot of the overproduced stuff that would come almost two decades later.
134All I Can Think About Is You (2017)
If two thirds of the lyrics in your song, and its title, could be transposed to any other generic love song in the world, it’s never going to leave an impact. The relaxed bassline, leading into the piano-led key change and guitar solo for the last third, make this the best of a bad bunch on the ‘Kaleidoscope’ EP.
133Crest of Waves (2002)
‘Crest of Waves’ veers as close as Coldplay would ever get to Oasis. The guitars circle and growl, and the bar is set for every bedroom rockstar to come – but that looping melody wasn’t quite strong enough to make a dent in their back catalogue.
132Such A Rush (1999)
Martin sounds pained, as do the off-key acoustic guitars, as do the repeated words of the title. Where is this going? There’s a glimmer of something good when the vocals stop whispering and go bolder in the second half – but you only get there if you can sit through the rest of it.
131No More Keeping My Feet On The Ground (2000)
This definitely went on to inspire McFly circa 2005 (remember ‘The Ballad of Paul K’?) , which, even if you hate them, is objectively their best phase. Anyway, this is another case of Martin’s vocals not having yet found the right register, too low to keep attention focused, unruly falsettos that alienate more than anything.
130A Spell A Rebel Yell (2008)
Are there three different tracks playing at once? There’s energy and force on this ‘Viva La Vida’ reject, but the lack of any substantial bass, weight, emotion explains why this one didn’t quite make the cut.
129Things I Don’t Understand (2005)
Philosophical musings and determined, upbeat guitars – two trademark features of Coldplay’s best tracks – are out in full force here. But there’s something missing, maybe a lack of a direct address, or too much the dreamy production that came to define the best tracks on ‘X&Y’.
128Only Superstition (1999)
It’s a pretty impressive feat for 1999, propped up with neurotic and bolshy guitars. Tackling superstition and mysticisms without a hint of pretence or vague poeticism, the lyrics try just hard enough, and it works.
‘Oceans’ is alluring, even ominous – but also feels somewhat unfinished. Martin sits solely in falsettos here and it is convincing, like a confession or a callout for help. To make the whole album loop on ‘Ghost Stories’, there’s about 90 seconds of pure transition tacked onto the end of this to set up ‘A Sky Full of Stars’. If it had been kept to a tight two-minute ballad, this would certainly rank higher.
The sense of doom, of threat closing in, is prominent in ‘Murder’ – the kind of neverending angst that fuelled much of the 2000s for Coldplay. It borrows rhythm from ‘Shiver’, and lays the groundwork for ‘Yes’ – without really standing for much on its own.
125I Bloom Blaum (2002)
There’s a delicacy to ‘I Bloom Blaum’, one that was unusual in 2002, fighting for attention opposite the ‘Politik’s and the ‘God Put A Smile Upon Your Face’s of the ‘Rush of Blood to the Head’ cycle. It’s slight, but quietly special at the same time too.
124Twisted Logic (2005)
Backwards, forwards, life on Earth and fears of what lies beyond: it’s all here, in a mysteriously good track that was never played live for some reason. They named the 2005 tour after it, rather than ‘X&Y’ – to never hear this live, we’ll always be left wondering what went wrong.
A B-side to ‘Clocks’ that deserved a proper spot on ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’, ‘Animals’ is gnarled and prowling as it delves into wild instincts before then fading away in a strange, dissonant collision of ambient noise. EH
122The World Turned Upside Down (2005)
If you’re looking for Coldplay’s corniest lyrics, then look no further than this ‘Fix You’ B-side. There are a few moments here that could take the gong for the most clichéd Coldplay moment, but “I am a puzzle, you’re the missing piece” snaffles the prize. Words aside, this is a perfectly fine Coldplay song — nothing more, nothing less. HM
121Chinese Sleep Chant (2008)
Good luck getting some kip while listening to this one. A hidden track that was tagged onto the end of the ‘Viva la Vida’ song ‘Yes’, this driving number is powered by crunching guitar riffs, thumping Will Champion drums and, amidst the swirling sonic boom, heavenly falsetto vocals. SM
120Pour Me (2005)
Poor me, poor me, pour me another glass of the untapped promise of this cracking little ‘X&Y’-era B-side. With its rousing guitar line and tortured poetics, it’s almost ready to rumble. Given a little more time to bake, this would have been a classic. AT
119Old Friends (2019)
A mounting acoustic number from Coldplay’s most recent album, ‘Old Friends’ dwells on the once larger-than-life figures that slowly fade into the past. EH
118Death Will Never Conquer (2008)
On this jaunty piano ditty Chris Martin puts on his best Vera Lynn impression. “One day death is going to conquer me, I’ll be down where the waters flow,” he belts out in chipper tones. “I hope sweet heaven has a place for me, let me know boys, let me know.” EH
117All Your Friends (2014)
This slow-burner is a tribute from the band to those who fought in the First World War and the suffering they went through. Released on Remembrance Day in 2014, it’s a low-key, synth-pop ballad. HM
116One I Love (2002)
We’ll wager that not many B-sides end up accumulating over 4.4 million hits on an unofficial YouTube stream. ‘One I Love’, the 2002 B-side to ‘In My Place’, has done just that, though. It’s understandable given that it contains many of Coldplay’s key songwriting ingredients: big chorus, big guitar riffs, big drums, big vocal refrain. Big! SM
115When I Need A Friend (2019)
A gorgeous, choir-led dose of brotherly love from ‘Everyday Life’, ‘When I Need A Friend’ is ultimately still little more than a soul-lifting interlude and palette-cleanser. AT
Coldplay wrote ‘Miracles’ for the Angelina Jolie-directed film Unbroken, which told the incredible story of Louis Zamperini. An Olympic distance runner, Zamperini was drafted into the army during the Second World War. After his plane crashed into the ocean in Japan, he survived 47 days at sea on a tiny raft before being taken prisoner. Previously presumed dead, he received a hero’s welcome when he eventually made it back to the US. EH
Coldplay smuggled ‘Flags’ onto the Japanese release of their most recent album ‘Everyday Life’ as a bonus track. Both anti-patriotism and pro-individuality, Martin lays out a fluttering flag metaphor: “And I don’t need flags to know you’re really something / And I just love you for yourself.” EH
112We Never Change (2000)
A metaphor-laden tune about ruining relationships ‘cos you’re too stubborn to change, the weary ‘We Never Change’ is a bit of a filler track. HM
111Ode to Deodorant (1998)
It’s a crying shame that the Radiohead-lite ‘Ode to Deodorant’ isn’t a regular fixture on the Coldplay setlist these days, if not for its title alone. One of the band’s earliest recordings that was never officially released, the track has since seen the light of the day and genuinely contains the lyrics: “Here’s an ode, ah, to deodorant / It’s my thing, ah, it’s my favourite hygiene / It keeps me through the day.” SM
110For You (2000)
A chillwave piano love song that’s perfect for any Glastonbury mid-set moment or an M&S pudding advert. AT
This ‘Everyday Life’ track is named after the Nigerian capital (the title means Lagos in Yoruba), and it’s a quietly folksy offering that rethinks Biblical stories. EH
Tove Lo features on this ‘A Headful of Dreams’ break-up ballad. And another ‘Fun’ fact – Chris Martin also wrote another song, about the same concept and with the same title, for Natalie Imbruglia. EH
107Now My Feet Won’t Touch the Ground (2008)
The closing tune from the ‘Prospekt’s March EP’ is a bit of a weepy one. Opening with jangling acoustic guitars, this two-minute tune starts to get going towards the end with powerhouse brass joining the fray before it stops prematurely. Talk about an unhappy ending! HM
106Easy to Please (1999)
One of the B-sides to ‘Brothers & Sisters’, the band’s first-ever official single as Coldplay that was released in 1999, ‘Easy To Please’ is a swirling, low-key affair that pays homage to the obvious influence the band drew from Radiohead in their early days. SM
105A Message (2005)
“I’m nothing on my own,” mourns Martin on this track from ‘X&Y’. Well, he’s certainly right about this song: while it shines alongside the grace of the rest of the record, alone it’s just more of a meh-sage. AT
104I Ran Away (2002)
Lackadaisical and brooding, this ‘The Scientist’ B-side struggles with the hollow ache of regret, and tries to find the courage to face up to running away. “Though I should stay,” Martin admits. “I don’t have the stomach to.” EH
103Up & Up (2015)
A floaty, surreal sing-along complete with bursts of violin whale song, this cut from ‘A Headful of Dreams’ features an all-star choir of collaborators including Beyoncé and her daughter Blue Ivy, Brian Eno, the gospel singer Merry Clayton and Chris Martin’s kids. The second guitar solo, meanwhile, is provided by none other than Noel Gallagher.
A short and sweet B-side to ‘The Scientist’, this quickie features Ash’s Tim Wheeler on guitar and Simon Pegg (!) on backing vocals. All ‘60s riffs and overdriven guitars, it’s a teeny-tiny nugget of growling alt-rock Coldplay. HM
101Death and All His Friends (2008)
The closing track on ‘Viva la Vida’ is an uplifting two-parter (or three-parter if you count the hidden song ‘The Escapist’) that bursts into life as soon as Will Champion and Guy Berryman add their rhythmic might to Martin and Buckland’s slowly-slowly instrumental build. The band later revealed that producer Brian Eno was “the biggest advocate of the song” – not a bad endorsement. SM
Coldplay doing Southern soul? Who’d have thunk it? Not us, but it certainly works. Preach, Chris! AT
99Careful Where You Stand (2000)
This understated B-side – released alongside the ‘Parachutes’ single ‘Shiver’ – is perhaps one of Coldplay’s best: minimal, devoted and warm. EH
98Postcards From Far Away (2008)
Just 48 seconds long, ‘Postcards from Far Away’ was written during sessions for Coldplay’s pomp-filled ‘Viva la Vida’ and was eventually released on their subsequent EP ‘Prospekt’s March’. According to Martin, it’s very much “from the same family”. EH
97Brothers and Sisters (1999)
The band’s first official single is an untethered slab of cantering alt-rock. Filled with wah-wah guitars and simple-yet-powerful piano chords, it’s Coldplay without the bells and whistles that have come to define their more recent releases. HM
96Up With The Birds (2011)
Sampling both Brian May and the late Leonard Cohen, this ‘Mylo Xyloto’ offering is another game of two halves for Coldplay. The first section is all ethereal effects, slow piano keys and Martin’s lingering vocals, the second full of rousing guitars, call-to-arms drums and upbeat lyrics: “But I know one day / Good things are coming our way…” SM
“Those who are dead are not dead, they’re just living in my head,” pines Martin about the ghosts that dog him on one of the artsiest tracks on the uber-artsy ‘Viva La Vida’. Building into skittering electronica with searing guitars before running away into a surprisingly joyous chorus, this was proof alone that Coldplay’s bold reinvention have given them plenty of life yet. AT
94Ghost Story (2014)
This bonus track from Coldplay’s 2014 break-up album ‘Ghost Stories’ sees Chris Martin haunting a faded relationship like a heartbroken ghoul. “Every time I try to walk through walls, more walls appear,” he sings. “What’s the point of feeling love for you when you don’t believe I’m here?” EH
93Bigger Stronger (1998)
Like ‘Ode to Deodorant’, ‘Bigger Stronger’ draws on mundane details to say something weightier — when Chris Martin sings about wanting a faster car, he’s not just hating on his dented Ford Focus. The song originally opened Coldplay’s debut EP ‘Safety’, which was mainly given away to friends through word of mouth. EH
92Up In Flames (2011)
It’s another Coldplay ballad! And it’s absolutely fine! This lilting lullaby boasts skittering electronic drums and lashings of falsetto, which is nice enough, but it does begin to jar with the incessant repetition of the song’s title. HM
Widely considered by superfans to be an underrated Coldplay creation, ‘Moses’ has only ever been released as a live version (debuting on ‘Coldplay Live 2003’). Written about Chris Martin’s then-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, the uplifting track also inspired the name that the couple gave to their second child. SM
90What If (2005)
Am I the only person who hears echoes of Elton John’s ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ in the verse of ‘What If’? That, plus the build-up into a melodious cacophony that’s indebted to The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’, and you’ve got the makings of a towering, arena anthem of misery that somehow manages to “turn the darkness into light”. AT
The chord sequences from this existentialist acoustic number, which was the first song that Coldplay penned for ‘Mylo Xyloto’, crop up and resurface across the entirety of their concept-driven rock opera record. EH
88Swallowed in the Sea (2005)
A fan-favourite, ‘Swallowed in the Sea’ is sometimes viewed as a sister tune of the better-known ‘Fix You’ – given its cyclical lyrics and slow-building drums, it’s easy to see why. EH
87Moving to Mars (2011)
This hulking slice of space-rock is basically Coldplay doing their best ‘Space Oddity’ impression. Initially written for ‘Mylo Xyloto’, the prog-laced tune failed to make the final cut and instead ended up on an exclusive iTunes EP. It has a fan in The Kooks’ Luke Pritchard, who described it as “genius” and predicted it’d be a “bootleg classic”. He may have over-egged it, but it’s still a lowkey belter from the band. HM
86Help Is Round the Corner (2000)
This ‘Yellow’ B-side keeps it simple. Featuring just Martin’s vocals and an acoustic guitar, the frontman sings about resilience, recovery and seeking help: “I’m shattered, but it really doesn’t matter / ‘Cos my rescue is gonna be here soon.” SM
85High Speed (1999)
With a touch of Jeff Buckley’s soul and a delicate approach to creating a mirrorball of sound, ‘High Speed’ would have been a lead single for most bands – but here it’s just another gem on the immaculate crown of ‘Parachutes’. Back then, Coldplay simply couldn’t be outclassed. AT
84Hymn For the Weekend (2015)
‘Hymn For The Weekend’ was originally conceived as Coldplay’s club song – Chris Martin mounted a campaign for a “drinks on me, drinks on me” hook after listening to Flo-Rida. That lyric didn’t stick around (they later twisted it to the less financially reckless “drinks from me”) but the general sentiment did. The band even recruited an uncredited Beyoncé to sing guest vocals. EH
83Til Kingdom Come (2005)
Pre-streaming days, ‘Til Kingdom Come’ was a hidden track labelled ‘+’ on the records and buried at the end of ‘X&Y’. This folk-flecked tune was initially meant to feature Johnny Cash, but sadly the country legend passed away before he could record the duet. The band decided to include it on the record anyway as a tribute to Cash. With its jangling acoustic guitar and earnest vocals, it’s a sweet four minutes of dizzy romance. HM
82The Goldrush (2009)
Coldplay lark around like The Beatles in the mop-top heyday in this very fun B-side to 2009’s ‘Life in Technicolor II’, with tumbling drums, looping riffs and chatty gang vocals (that were seemingly captured in just one take, laughs and all) the order of the day. Just a right laugh of a Coldplay tune, basically. SM
81A Whisper (2002)
Some more paranoid, Radiohead-esque guitarwork from ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’, but with enough of a release and bursts of subtle euphoria to make it feel truly Coldplay. AT
80White Shadows (2005)
As well as sharing an opening lyric with My Chemical Romance — “when I was a young boy” — ‘White Shadows’ bridges the gap between ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’-era Coldplay and the heftier ballads on ‘X&Y’. Jagged guitars eventually give way to drama-filled, pumping organs. EH
79Speed of Sound (2005)
When Coldplay began writing ‘Speed of Sound’, they set out with a niche goal: to create a Kate Bush-inspired song with lots of tom-toms (à la her 1985 hit ‘Running Up That Hill’). Occupying a similar space to their earlier song ‘Clocks’, it’s a pounding moment from ‘X&Y’ — though Chris Martin has gone off it in recent years. Why? He “forgot” to write a “banana lyric for the song. A banana lyric is a staple in every song we’ve made and somehow I forgot to write one for ‘Speed of Sound’.” Right! EH
This lovely ballad features on the neon-bright ‘A Head Full of Dreams’, but the album version is a little overdone. If you’re looking for something a bit more emotional, then take a listen to the stripped-back version they played amid technical difficulties during their 2016 Glastonbury headline set. No, you’re crying. HM
First off: shout-out to Guy Berryman for his thunderous bassline on ‘Low’. This stirring ‘X&Y’ track is an emotionally charged number that only intensifies over five-and-a-half absorbing minutes, with Chris Martin hollering “cause I feel low” as the song reaches its climax. Bonus bit of trivia: this song features Brian Eno on synth duties! SM
76Everyday Life (2019)
The title track from the band’s latest opus, ‘Everyday Life’ takes all the hurt, love, loss and confusion that we all share daily and turns into something widescreen and altogether less ordinary. AT
75Army of One (2015)
Like the rest of ‘A Headful of Dreams’, this battle metaphor-riddled track is produced by StarGate – the pop duo behind countless smash hits by Rihanna and Beyoncé. This link-up is no more evident than on the record’s poppiest moment, which comes complete with squelching synths, a smattering of auto-tune and a bridge that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Katy Perry track. EH
Chris Martin and co. nicked the main hook from Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer Love’ for this ‘X&Y’ track, turning those bloopy and robotic foundations into a spiny stadium anthem. A last-minute addition to the 2005 album, ‘Talk’ was originally destined to be a ‘Speed of Sound’ B-side — but the band had an eventual change of heart. EH
Deceptively simple and playful, ‘Guns’ is a rare Coldplay track on which there is a sense of humour – while still serving an angry political agenda. A wry satire of excessive military spending, of America’s ludicrous gun control policies and a lack of care for young people and the arts, the tight acoustic track bottles everything you need to know about Coldplay’s riled up feelings on today’s world.
72Adventure of a Lifetime (2015)
Perhaps marking a turning point, ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ defines the moment in 2015 when Coldplay bounced back from the sadness of ‘Ghost Stories’ and decided their technicolour summer bangers were here to stay. The lively guitar loop is very ‘Just Dance’, very Sponsored Content, very just fine. Much better to come.
71Sleeping Sun (2005)
‘Sleeping Sun’ was a curious oddity around the ‘X&Y’ era (which explains why it was demoted to an EP) focusing on a dextrous acoustic guitar straight out of ‘Parachutes’ rather than relying on any keys or reverb effects. If it had been written 10 years earlier, it would have undoubtedly been one of their first singles.
Martin credits Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, with changing his life when a friend gave him a collection of his poems while he was divorcing Gwyneth Paltrow. He repays the favour here, as the tranquility of ‘Kaleidoscope’ can be credited to American poet Coleman Barks reading Rumi’s ‘The Guest House’. Lullaby piano chords swirl around the spoken words – it’s much more special than a purely transitional piece.
69Cemeteries of London (2008)
The band describe this track as a “ghost march”, leaning further into folk than alt-rock, with its clapping percussion and central chant of the chorus. Lyrically it’s haunting, ominous, emblematic of the complex storytelling and characterisation of ‘Viva La Vida’. Witches, ghosts and the presence of God in Medieval London are loitering in this one
68Square One (2005)
There is an immediate paradox: “You’re in control, is there anywhere you want to go?” Martin asks against stark keys, the empty instrumentation making you feel more like floating than in charge of anything. The stakes then rise with a rousing chorus, as if hurtling towards some kind of end-time.
67Rainy Day (2008)
It’s raining, and they’re all happy to be here. That tumbling little piano pattern, those airy sighing strings of the chorus, the cathartic vocals that just hold a note and thank the skies for opening up. Martin teases memories of the Queen of Spain, of vivid memories spent with another while watching the rain fall down. Perfectly lovely stuff.
‘O’ isn’t trying to prove much, letting a lilting piano dance around Martin’s lyrics – about birds escaping, feelings fading and perfect memories flying away. It could slot perfectly into anything from ‘X&Y’ or ‘Rush of Blood’ – but as it stands, it’s one of the more soothing and somehow comforting tracks on ‘Ghost Stories’.
65How You See The World (2006)
I see no reason whatsoever for this to not even be afforded a studio recording. The despair and anger in the lyrics, along with a guitar growling lower, far more menacing than usual, might be out of place alongside the often watery sadness of ‘X&Y’ – but it certainly would have galvanised the whole thing if given the chance.
The second Hunger Games film, like the second Hunger Games book, is the best. Coldplay’s first song ever written for a film speaks to the characters – young people who are scared, brave, at war, alone – and also celebrates the band’s best qualities. The haunting gravity of ‘Rush of Blood’ era gives way to a more cinematic, regal payoff that would come to define the storytelling of ‘Mylo Xyloto’ later. No wonder it was nominated both for a Grammy and a Golden Globe.
One simple acoustic strum in conversation with three piano notes, and a lamenting falsetto. It’s Coldplay by the book, and there’s a reason it works. “If I ever want proof / I find it in you” perfectly captures Martin’s deep, painful romanticism of the X&Y era.
62Life is For Living (2000)
The best example of a hidden gem. Guitar chords so basic you’d teach them to reluctant first-year students – but then strings swell, and Martin’s vocals are stretched in a good way. When he tells you that life is worth living, everything in the gentle song is working with enough conviction that you do just believe it.
How much was Chris Martin hanging out with Julian Casablancas in 2015? The chorus of ‘Birds’, a giddy and gorgeous bop, sings of falling in love and starting riots and raging. All standard Coldplay stuff But in the outro, when Martin asks “When you fly won’t you / Won’t you take me too?” there’s something unmistakeable. Once you recognise it as, well, the chorus of The Strokes’ ‘Under Cover of Darkness’, it’s impossible to unhear it.
Epitomising the ambition on the newest record to communicate the chaos and rich diversity of the world, ‘Church’ weaves a tapestry of samples, vocals, instruments. The late Amjad Sabri’s ‘Jaga Ji Laganay’ intercuts Martin’s cool delivery, with vocals in Arabic from Norah Shaqur also featuring. The experiment pays off – when they speak of waves, of everyone everywhere, and worship and praise, rather than just seeming excessively and artificially earnest, there’s a tranquil and somewhat mystical aura that does just flow.
Lazy but showing just how much can be done with so little, their first ever title track favoured a deft but bare acoustic line, with Martin keeping well within his comfort zone as he mutters mysterious but still romantic lyrics. “Here I am and I’ll wait in line always” doesn’t sound like much on paper, but the yearning in that final “always” hits the spot.
58Bani Adam (2019)
The piano melody at the start of ‘Bani Adam’ is subject to much debate among hardcore fans following the resurgence of the baffling final 20 seconds of the below clip from 2010, allegedly 10 years before this was ever recorded, in which Martin plays it in Liverpool after ‘Trouble’. It also could be a variation on the start of ‘Kaleidoscope’, but either way – there’s clearly a complicated story here. There are rumours that ‘Everyday Life’ was supposed to be the band’s fifth album, but that Martin’s divorce made ‘Ghost Stories’ a necessity, the sadness of which then made the intense joy ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ a necessity. Anyway, it’s here now, it’s a gorgeous little storyline, and the second half of the track sees Dr. Shahrzad Sami reciting the eponymous poem by Saadi Shirazi – the same one Barack Obama quoted to celebrate Nowruz in 2009. “Human beings are members of a whole,” the poem begins – here returns the ambition for universal peace of ‘Everyday Life’.
If this is as close as Coldplay will get to a James Bond theme, it makes sense that the band have never been asked. It’s straightforward instrumentally, an archetypal ‘Parachutes’ track with a wandering bassline and a falsetto-led chorus – but it’s when Martin questions how “the spies came out of the water” that you realise he’s got much more than usual on his mind.
56Major Minus (2011)
The seesawing guitar loop of the intro warns the listener of what’s to come: ‘Major Minus’ is about a war. It’s the most animated and dangerous track of ‘Mylo Xyloto’, itself openly described as a concept album and a thematic rock opera. The official descriptions say we are in “Silencia, an Orwellian society” which has been “overtaken by a government led by Major Minus, who controls the population through media and propaganda”. You can hear a threat is looming – no time to rest from the jagged, corrosive guitar licks when your eponymous character is out to get you.
The first eleven seconds lurch the song into life with such woozy seduction, casual fans could question if Coldplay were really capable of this. It’s an admitted departure, not a falsetto in sight – the band’s attempts to connect with earthier, more spiritual roots gain credibility here. It pays off, big time.
Tailor-made for festival crowds, ‘Paradise’ is good, but it’s just not as good as we’ve let it become. It’s the most on-the-nose manifestation of ‘Mylo Xyloto’s message – of freedom bursting out from its shackles, of a young, innocent person dreaming of a better place, and then singing about it with a big old cathartic “ooohhhohh” so we can all feel the same sense of release together. It’s nice, but something that could have been nice by and for anyone – not really doing anything that makes Coldplay so specifically good in a uniquely Coldplay way.
53Amazing Day (2015)
A simple, slowed-down recollection of a perfect moment, ‘Amazing Day’ gently brings Coldplay’s most blindly happy album to a close. Remember, this is repairing the deep damage of ‘Ghost Stories’ – and sometimes a bit of plain, self-indulgent pop about a nice time is all you really need.
Coldplay’s ‘We Will Rock You’, the best thing they have ever done with a drum kit. Everything just clicks from the off – the organ riff, the tabla loop, the metronomic hand claps. There are rumours of endless influences for this one: Justin Timberlake, Arcade Fire, Blur – and naturally, Brian Eno, who co-produced ‘Viva La Vida’. It still remains one of the most galvanising and straightforwardly catchy tracks to date.
51Don’t Panic (2000)
One of the first 10 tracks Coldplay ever wrote – and one of the six played at their first gig in 1998 at Camden’s Laurel Tree – there’s still an angsty heft to it. The overdubbed guitars do most of the heavy lifting, but there’s a suave appeal to Martin’s vocals on here too.
Italian violinist Davide Rossi – better known as one half of Goldfrapp – is credited as producer on the gorgeous ‘Everyday Life’ opener – and it just sounds like his own solo. Rossi also contributed all the strings and violin arrangements to ‘Viva La Vida’, but this is a violin instrumental at its purest, its most stunning: well-paced, crying, sighing, setting up the record to follow with romantic and cinematic verve.
49Always in My Head (2014)
Following the same template as the other major heartbreakers on ‘Ghost Stories’, ‘Always in My Head’ sticks to electronic beats, a slight echo (featuring vocals from Martin’s daughter, Apple) and mournful lyrics. Its strength is its understanding of pain in its catatonic intensity. “But though I try my heart stays still / It never moves / Just won’t be led” summarises this feeling – frozen, lonely pain.
The violins here seem to be teasing ‘Viva La Vida’, certainly feeling through more vivid and daring feelings than a lot of ‘Rush of Blood’. The way Martin’s vocals lurch over five, six seconds at a time give this a dizziness – propped up by lyrics of bewildering light in amidst darkness, something of a person suffering from deep, deep depression, clinging onto every speck of relief they can.
47Another’s Arms (2014)
A female voice calls out for someone, anyone, while keys zoom in and out of focus. It could be considered flat, in the sense that nothing in the music or lyrics really rips through the metallic composition of it all – it’s all a little distorted, a little removed. But if anything, that makes it more effective: a claustrophobic lament, a weeping ballad that remembers “when the pain just rips right through me,” mentally, internally, more than anything another person could understand.
46Reign of Love (2008)
Tacked on to ‘Lovers in Japan’, one of Coldplay’s best love songs, ‘Reign of Love’ has a lightness to it, a carefree intimacy in the simple waltzing piano loop and the storytelling of a faraway land, populated by two lovers. “I’m just a prisoner in a reign of love,” Martin sings, which feels like quite the fairytale way of describing any relationship.
45True Love (2014)
Allegedly Coldplay’s favourite song ever written, ‘True Love’ is the posterfigure for ‘Ghost Stories’, the most raw and desperately sad album by far. It cuts straight to the core: strings so sad it’s as if they’re wailing for the first time, an entirely electronic production that sounds at once clinically cold and piercing, and lyrics so vulnerable this blows all other copycat love songs out the water. “Tell me you love me / if you don’t then lie” is a line once it’s lodged in your heart, it feels near-impossible to get out.
44Prospekt’s March / Poppyfields (2008)
The acoustic guitar circling the title track of ‘Prospekt’s March’, the EP of tracks that almost but didn’t quite make ‘Viva La Vida’, sounds unassuming, simple – very ‘Parachutes’ – but it’s when the cinematic synths grow, and the chorus lets the song’s storytelling really fly, that this one earns deep emotion. Words of war, of burying our dead, of fearing a lonely death, all come into focus – and the contemplative beauty of it all just swells.
Not the first nor the last song where Will Champion’s percussion does most of the legwork. But it cuts to the core with, as with all their best stuff, infatuation deep in their bones. The ink here is that of a tattoo – finding any way, however possible, however much pain, to hold onto the person you love. “Just wanted a way of keeping you inside,” Martin explains, to the person loved “so much that it hurts.” The lightness of the track feels like those very first moments of being in love, where everything is still a bit rose-tinted. Where the tattoo ink still prickles, but hasn’t left a bruise just yet.
42The Hardest Part (2005)
At once accessible and complex, ‘The Hardest Part’ is Coldplay’s most explicit ode to R.E.M – admitting it might sound a lot like ‘Losing My Religion’. But it’s still different enough, the poppiest subversion of the fearful rock on ‘X&Y’, with a certain confidence to it. There’s a bittersweet quality too, as Martin sings of “silver lining the clouds” and, as ever, wrestling with the aftermath of having his heart broken.
41A Head Full of Dreams (2015)
Instantly euphoric, the title track from “the happiest album” Coldplay ever made achieves what ‘Paradise’ and ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ wish they could. Catchy, hopeful, colourful, the song captures everything this album, and ‘Mylo Xyloto’ too, have always yearned for: light bursting through the darkness, a joyous song for every single person in the world to dance and hold each other close to, wherever they might find themselves.
40The Escapist (2008)
‘The Escapist’ has a fizzy energy to it, an emotional end-credits atmosphere where words are kept short and sweet, and the layers of keys and strings hum in harmony. The strength of the melody comes from the fact that Jon Hopkins, who co-produced ‘Viva La Vida’ with Brian Eno, lends a portion of his own nine-minute instrumental ‘Light Through The Veins’. But the words change everything: “And in the end / We lie awake / And we dream / Of making our escape.” It’s all that’s said, and it’s all there needs to be – a million different possible stories and worlds open up in under two minutes.
39A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)
There is a heavy, aching sense of despair to the title track of what is most definitely Coldplay’s masterpiece. The sliding guitars of the chorus, paired with Martin’s delivery of that one “honey” really do give you such a surge of energy, both painful and demanding, that it’s hard to listen to it just once it’s so affecting.
38Us Against the World (2011)
A rare moment of respite on the ferociously energetic ‘Mylo Xyloto’, Martin strips everything back here, giving intimacy and calm back to his fans with a mellow love song. But what really makes this worth caring for is the second verse, when harmonies from Champion turn the entire song from pleasant crooning into something altogether more melancholy, something more heartbreaking. And the line “lift off before trouble just erodes us in the rain” really does have a magical, somehow slippery quality to it.
37Cry Cry Cry (2019)
Really seeing what they can get away with on ‘Everyday Life’, Coldplay borrow from Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters’ ‘Cry Baby’, a flirty doo-wop ballad here sung by Martin with some help from neo-jazz artist Jacob Collier. Letting a skittering piano lead the way, it’s a track tailor-made for a little sway across an old-school ballroom, watching your parents or grandparents slow dance without a care in the world. It’s straightforwardly cute, refreshingly guitar-less and almost entirely angst-free. Lovely.
36Don’t Let It Break Your Heart (2011)
In the same way that you don’t know when a dream begins or ends, you just find yourself in the middle, ‘Don’t Let It Break Your Heart’ decides to tackle its listener’s heartbreak by thrusting them right in the centre of the biggest feelings. It doesn’t wallow, or ever pause, really. It’s an explosion of hope, of energy given to the person who is wrestling with that recent disappointment. “Though heavily we bled / Still, on we crawl” sounds like it could sit comfortably against the grief of ‘Ghost Stories’, or the deep depression of ‘Rush of Blood to the Head’. But this is ‘Mylo Xyloto’, and so they fight to find joy. It might be the most triumphant break-up song ever written.
35Christmas Lights (2010)
Anyone can do a festive cover, but to write a new Christmas track that can both sing of Oxford Street in December without forgetting “poison in the blood” – few have done it as well as Coldplay. ‘Christmas Lights’ marries all the traditions, the chandeliers, the drunken Elvis, the snow, with all the ways the holiday can still feel empty, disappointing, despite how bright the lights might be shining. As ever, bittersweet really does work best.
Achingly sad piano chords set the tone for a lament, a song imagining every child who can’t be with their father. Martin laid out the three different places ‘Daddy’ came from. The first, from people with inexplicably absent fathers, left sad and confused; the second, from Martin’s own guilt from leaving his kids so often for work; the third, from the prison industrial complex in America and its systemic racism, forcing kids to live without their fathers unfairly. The lyrics are spoken from a child desperately trying to reach out. “Look dad we’ve got the same hair / daddy it’s my birthday” emanates a heartache so deep, a need so unfulfilled, you’re transported to wherever that kid is hurting immediately.
I remember hearing ‘Midnight’ for the very first time and thinking Coldplay had changed and I could no longer love them. It made no sense, the barely-there, ambient electronic instrumental, and Martin’s chilly tones so distorted they almost felt alien. But really, it’s astonishing: a complex, layered beast, using a restrained sound to communicate the cold sadness that comes with severe heartbreak. It takes a few listens, but once you’re there it’s impossible to miss its subdued brilliance. ‘Midnight’ borrows from Bon Iver thematically, and it borrows from Jon Hopkins literally – re-using his unreleased track ‘Amphora’ and building everything from there. Nothing soars, or breaks, but magic still grows in the dark, skittish sorrow of it all.
32Viva La Vida (2008)
Taking its influences from both a Frida Kahlo painting and a history of Christian and Medieval stories of reluctant monarchs, ‘Viva La Vida’ could sound pretentious and inaccessible, but, as the entire world knows – it’s hard to find a five-note “oh-oh-ooooh-oh-oh” that anyone can recognise any easier. The back-and-forth of the strings fuels this one, but the live experience is also a treat, as Champion commands the muscular percussion section, alternating between a timpano and a church bell. Sampled by Flo Rida, Mac Miller, and Drake, covered by One Direction, adored at Glastonbury – there might be some more personal, underappreciated gems, but few tracks have demanded universal praise quite like this one.
Those five keys really did change everything. It was one piano hook, the atmosphere of a grey stormy day at the beach, and ‘Trouble’ hooked itself onto the mind of millions. Martin says the song was about his own poor behaviour within the band – they’ve often been vocal about disagreements, but there was no outright apology again like this on any of the following records. Apparently a smash hit was all they needed to become friends again.
30Life in Technicolor ii (2008)
The opening three-second loop of ‘Life in Technicolor ii’, a santor playing a buoyant melody against tabla-infused percussion, is one that has gone on to underscore Ford Super Sunday, Match of the Day, NFL coverage, the introduction of the Macbook Air, Wimbledon, the London Eye and more. It’s exciting, it’s alluring, and once the lyrics kick in it’s even better. There’s the warning that “time’s a loaded gun”, the glee that “every road is a ray of light”, and a later admission, “now my feet won’t touch the ground” which nods to the band’s inexplicable obsession with that phrase. Essential to so many cultural pillars, essential in the back catalogue.
The way ‘Sparks’ is constructed seems to mimic the feeling of a tiny spark of fire landing on your skin. It does so gently, floating down, then there’s a tingling of heat, and then just a comfortable warmth. The slowness of the acoustic guitar here is both apologetic and seductive.
28Strawberry Swing (2008)
Celebrating the best of Eno’s atmospherics and the band’s own mellow rhythms, ‘Strawberry Swing’ feels lighter than a lot of the meditations on ‘Viva La Vida’. The song takes inspiration from afro-pop, as Martin nods to his mother’s Zimbabwean roots as an influence. At once in the beat, pleasant and infectious, and in the airy guitar loops and psychedelic synths – it’s a doozy, a lovely, pensive, sonically rich and emotionally calming track.
Rejected from ‘X&Y’ for being too simple, ‘Gravity’ was banished to the B-sides, and then even tossed over to another band – Embrace, who led their fourth album ‘Out of Nothing’ with it in 2004. With hindsight this feels like a major mistake, the cinematic space-rock of it all channelling some of the finest melancholy of ‘Parachutes’. Existentialism is rife, with words on heartbeats and the sun and the sky, on the push and pull of gravity that, as ever, brings two bodies together, and forces them apart. It deserved better.
26A Sky Full Of Stars (2014)
It makes no sense for ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’ to be on ‘Ghost Stories’ but it was welcome proof of two things: Coldplay could work their way around a synth, and could make a collaboration work. Credit goes to the late, great Avicii for both producing and recording the piano parts on this one. The heavily EDM-influenced track is one of the most freeing and fun things Coldplay have ever done – an infectious, magnetic dance anthem. But there’s still deep tenderness too, as fans are lucky enough to experience whenever Martin plays a stripped-back piano version of this on tour.
25Everything’s Not Lost (2000)
One of the very first bittersweet singalongs, ‘Everything’s Not Lost’ offers a simple “chin-up”, reminding the listener that however bad it looks, things will turn out alright. It might sound trite, but it’s delivered beautifully. And Martin admits “I’ll be counting up my demons” too, adding a bit of edge to the potentially feeble sorrow of this one.
24See You Soon (1999)
Better than half of ‘Parachutes’ and ‘Rush of Blood’ put together – and most acoustic ballads they’ve tried to write in the past 10 years – ‘See You Soon’ has a fragile, insecure quality to it. There’s the sense of a sheltered individual at the centre, a whispered fear of all the people who could be out to hurt you. “In a bulletproof vest with the windows all closed / I’ll be doing my best / I’ll see you soon.” Is it paternal? Platonic? Romantic? Everything seems to fit – and whatever your ailment, it’ll certainly fix it.
23Green Eyes (2002)
Look, we couldn’t possibly say that ‘Green Eyes’ is such a good song purely because Gwyneth Paltrow has blue eyes and this song does not have to be about her… but it certainly helps. By this point the acoustic guitar was beyond familiar, but it’s all in the lyrics” “I came here with a load / And it feels so much lighter / Now I met you” captures the heaviness that makes ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’ such a success, yet that colour, those eyes, make everything feel better, more within reach. A perfect, precise love song.
22Princess of China (2011)
The duet between Chris Martin and Rihanna was always written specifically for Rihanna. She is the missing piece of ‘Mylo Xyloto’, the female half of the rock opera telling this boy-meets-girl story. Martin had always said this was his favourite track on the album – often performing it twice in a row with Rihanna when playing it live – and it makes sense. The only thing more pleasing than Martin’s harmonies with Will Champion are Martin’s harmonies with Rihanna. Add to that a Sigur Ros sample, an unrelenting heavy synth line and the closest thing to R&B-infused electropop we’ll ever get from them, this has the chops to score the most epic, breathtaking cinematic romance of our time.
That piano riff has gone on to make history and Martin describes the moment Johnny Buckland added guitar chords to it as “a chemical reaction process”. ‘Clocks’ couldn’t belong to anyone else, with its cryptic and urgent lyrics of a relationship gone wrong. “Am I a part of the cure / Or am I part of the disease?” captures Coldplay’s vivid, paranoid emotional intelligence, and a sense of insecure self-awareness like little else they’ve ever written.
A smouldering slow-burner from Coldplay’s 2014 album ‘Ghost Stories’, ‘Magic’ shows off the more understated side of the band as they trade in saturated excess for sleight-of-hand. EH
A bassy groove underscores backing vocals from young kids singing that three-beat hook here, and sees ‘Orphans’ joins the likes of ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ and ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ as an easily loveable pop banger. But there’s a more robust story too: that “boom” is the drop of a missile, the catchy lyric at war with itself by communicating the ongoing danger of the world. Martin claims much of the lyrics are personal, but in the first verse, “Rosaleen of the Damascene” nods to the bombings in Syria of April 2018 – Rosaleen being one of the children who was killed. The chorus, then, cooing about going to “get drunk with my friends” feels more poignant than ‘Hymn For the Weekend’ did, as it speaks to the young people who couldn’t, and never will do such a thing. From a distance, it’s a top-tier bop, and up close, the depth makes it even greater.
18Warning Sign (2002)
No longer just indulging the man who messed up his own relationship but explaining specifically how he did it, ‘Warning Sign’ acknowledges apathy and apologises for it. He missed the warning signs, he was looking for a way out, he ruined the love he was too lucky to have in the first place.
17Lovers in Japan (2008)
If the hook of ‘Lovers in Japan’ sounds like it’s been transposed from another era – one more joyful, even magical – it’s because it has. The steady, cheerful beat is played on a makeshift tack piano: an old piano with tacks pushed into the felt-padded hammers, to recreate the harpsichord-type sound of that very special piano. But what makes the track so glorious is that the piano isn’t alone – Buckland has an indulgent and satisfying guitar riff, synths swirl and soar, and Martin feels his way through lyrics of determined lovers, telling a story of “dreamin’ of the Osaka sun”. Everything in the composition is luscious, complex, and the delivery so gleeful that by the end, as the music soars, you feel you’re flying along with them too.
16Trouble in Town (2019)
Never ones to shy away from an uncomfortable conversation, Coldplay extend empathy through awareness on ‘Trouble in Town’, singing of police brutality and racial injustice with cautionary, corrosive results. It begins with a moody piano – but it’s different to the familiar lonely, often self-concerned, melancholy. This one is nervous, chilly, aware that danger is rising, for everyone. The vulnerability in the way Martin utters “Oh my goodness/there’s blood on the beat” hammers home the visceral, aching injustice of it all. But added to the usual crescendo, the blistering explosion of crashing drums, wailing guitars and lurching strings here, is the sampling of a stop-and-frisk led by Officer Philip Nace in Northern Philadelphia – who was then rightly dismissed for “idiotic behaviour”.
15Glass of Water (2008)
The lyrics might be ambiguous, “neither half full or empty is your glass”, Martin will say, but the guitar riff is played with such force, such energy that it’s no wonder this ended up underscoring Match of the Day montages over the years. It’s upbeat, but not in a danceable, marketable way. They never even thought of including it on the album. The energy that courses through this one is powerful in a way that asks you to shout it back, to fight for what you’re feeling, to “cling to the mast” whatever happens.
I can’t imagine anyone else in the world singing this song. Martin travels from the lowest to the highest points in his register, through necessity, in what is a strident cry for help. The confession bubbles slowly, from a man saying he is “no cause of concern”, who is then “stood on the edge, tied to the noose”. It’s a potentially terrifying conclusion, but then another character comes in and saves everything. The progression is felt sonically too – we start low, just Martin and a piano, and then the necessary climax sees a fearless guitar and Champion’s crashing drums add to the urgency of one desperate man. A masterwork of a fall, rise, and fall again.
13Champion of the World (2019)
The one-two riff of the introduction sounds like a mature, perfectly sturdy traditional Coldplay offering, but ‘Champion of the World’ pays tribute to and samples Owl John’s ‘Los Angeles, Be Kind’ in its backbone. Frivolous lyrics, of a kid doing battle with the other boys in school, referees, rocket ships and fireworks (and his love for E.T) cut through the earthier instrumentation, giving this a nostalgic, wistful feel.
The way Martin talks about ‘Shiver’ really ruins its impact – so thank goodness it’s so good all on its own. Forget the rumours of which woman it’s about, the artist he claims he’s ripped off, the reason he calls it a “stalking song” – the furious performance of unrequited love is glorious, and its power ripples out in waves. “I’ll always be waiting for you,” he says. Others have said it before, but it’s never sounded quite so convincing.
11Hurts Like Heaven (2011)
A high-speed breezy hit where it’s all about the guitars. Lyrics still speak of existential fear, skittish worries about conflict and chaos, but it’s all in the double-time riffs, the ’80s sheen to it, the soaring ooh-ooh-oohs and the relentless, fearless melodies that this one sticks. It’s like all the best bits of a kitschy rollercoaster you’re a little too old for. It gives you a giddy kick in the gut, makes your heart skip a beat before you’ve even had time to realise.
10God Put A Smile Upon Your Face (2002)
‘God Put A Smile Upon Your Face’ strikes a very, very tricky balance. It took them ages to write it, to get it right, to find something with more “bounce”, they said, in the vein of Muse or PJ Harvey. There’s something off-balance in the riff, in Martin’s vocals, that makes you feel everything could shift into the wrong key at any moment (and sometimes when performed live, it does). But when it all coalesces, the frenetic drumming rhythm and the drawl of the electric guitar, it’s an incendiary, electric shock of a banger – with a thunderous underbelly to make you question God, religion, direction, life itself. Just for a bit of extra fun.
9Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall (2011)
With a synth hook that sounds like an alarm clock and flag-waving lyrics of turning tears into triumph, ‘Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall’ reunites Coldplay with Brian Eno for the most accessible rave-inflected pop masterpiece they’ve got. Martin credits Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film Babel for providing inspiration in a nightclub scene – layers a sample of Peter Allen’s ‘I Go To Rio’, the track used in said scene, to prop this one up. But it’s the band’s colourful confidence, closing their 2011-2012 Mylo Xyloto tour with this one, that cements it as an all-timer. It’s a party tune written as if it had to be played as the last one you ever heard.
If that opening headbanger of a riff doesn’t give you a rush of blood to the head, I don’t know what will. It’s a pounding, forceful announcement that this is not ‘Parachutes’ anymore. It’s telling you that disaster is coming, it’s telling you what’s needed to weather the apocalypse. These lyrics are asking you to open your eyes and take love, give love – because it’s not about wondering what if something goes wrong, it’s explaining how it feels when it does. Somehow, with all the instruments still the same as usual, these lyrics, sung in that warning low register which turns into a crying falsetto, make the pain feel more jagged, messier than before.
7Violet Hill (2008)
Coldplay’s first anti-war song is still one of their best, and one of the best. The piano melody is forceful, then joined by a harsh, rousing guitar riff haunted by fuzzbox distortion. Martin explained that the lyrics speaking of “a carnival of idiots on show” and the instance of when “fox became God” are obviously about Fox News – and there is a fearlessness to the track that smugly says they don’t care who knows about it. But the brilliance comes from a piercing vulnerability in places, too. Martin’s falsetto peaks as he sings, cries, “If you love me, why’d you let me go?” This unrequited love, this rage at the incompetence in the world, it’s violent. It’s not moping around. There’s no room for sadness when you’re so angry.
6In My Place (2002)
Twinkling guitar licks and crashing cymbals make the moody, shiny ‘In My Place’ sit in a lovely place between wallowing and confessing, where the unrequited romance is conveyed through introspection. It’s the combination of the moaning lyrics and the more blissed-out “yeah”s of the chorus that make the live experience of this one still feel like a crowning moment in the evening – whichever year it’s being performed in.
An arabesque might be one of the most basic, static poses in ballet, but Coldplay’s track is hands down the most sophisticated, fluid and challenging things they’ve ever done. Credit goes to Nigerian musician Femi Kuti, who, along with his band, performs the storming horn solos and harmonies that move this into a much more beguiling, hypnotic realm than casual Coldplay fans could ever expect. But such a discordant melody makes sense when you listen closely. It’s their first studio track to ever include profanity, and they’ve made sure it’s worthwhile. “Same fucking blood,” Martin screams, over the grandiose horn-led outro. Guitars take the backseat, this isn’t the place for a falsetto. It’s a whole new world, one of nu-jazz and blinding anger against enduring discrimination.
4The Scientist (2002)
You have to give yourself an anti-pep talk to shoulder the blinding anguish of ‘The Scientist’. How can one man and four chords make you cry so easily? It’s just chords, there’s nothing overly sophisticated or labyrinthine about it. But it’s like when you poke around a scar, prodding at skin, not feeling anything until suddenly, you hit one particular spot and it triggers searing, irrevocable pain. That’s what ‘The Scientist’ does, and its brilliance lies in the fact that it does so every single time you listen. It’s built on the formula we know – but the execution here would then be the one everybody would have to try and beat. Grief that makes you weep, a marrow-deep understanding of sadness that you feel with everything you’ve got.
3Fix You (2005)
The very best example of the overwhelming Coldplay build, from stark grief – a church organ playing two, three chords – to cataclysmic devastation, ‘Fix You’ addresses the person who is mourning, the one who is grieving, and gives them everything. These words of encouragement hit hard, they tackle the fallibility of humanity, the possibility of error and the hope, the light that will always – in Coldplay’s world – be able to help you through anything. And by the time there’s a synth, those harmonies, the understanding and comforting of the “tears streaming down your face”.. Those words, those lights, that promise, it’s lodged deep in your bones.
2Charlie Brown (2011)
“We’ll run riot / We’ll be glowing in the dark“. You haven’t felt magic, the kind that makes every hair on the back of your neck stand up, until you’ve heard those words out loud in the middle of a sea of thousands and thousands of people, as endless glittering lights come to life. Xylobands, the light-up wristbands created by Coldplay fan Jason Regler, take centre stage during ‘Charlie Brown’, where the jubilant ascending guitars and promises of lighting a fire, a spark, sparkle and dance in real-time. And even without that image – it’s one that you yell, an Arcade Fire-infused anthem, one letting liquid happiness spread through your bloodstream, while the sky full of Xylobands turn any dark night into a million colours. It’s glorious.
There are a million different truths about ‘Yellow’. It could be about the colour of a coward. That of a sunny mood. The one of a young woman’s glow. The aura of a sky full of stars. The phone directory that was lying on the table – they will never let you know. The story behind Coldplay’s most successful track, their best track, has kept changing since 2000, and probably always will. Why would you give away your most important secret?
Like so many masterpieces, ‘Yellow’ was born in a bolt of lightning. A clear night’s sky and a simple, tranquil appreciation of it led to the opening line. “Look at the stars” held so much that the rest flowed like silk, the acoustic guitar swerving out of focus just when that overdubbed, historic central riff needed it to. Here is devotion at its most unblinkered, a rock-solid promise, a supernova love letter. There might be other songs, more complex songs and less earnest songs, but from Coldplay, there is no better song. It’s about blind romance, at once hopeful and resigned, that swears to remain true until death demands it to stop. “For you I’d bleed myself dry.” That line, this song, deserves the world. Hot tears and eternal loyalty. There won’t ever be another one like it.