Coldplay have released six albums since ‘Parachutes’ in 2000. It’s not a huge output but could definitely do with a little NME ranking.
Rank The Albums is a regular series in which we line up a band's output in descending order of quality. You do the same. Lighthearted banter swiftly follows, peppered with the odd wtf comment. Today, it's Coldplay's turn.
Coldplay had the world at their feet in 2005. Their previous album, 2002's 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head', had been a scarcely credible eight-figure seller and they'd grabbed the stadium rock crown slipping from U2's bonce. They couldn't stuff this one up, could they?
Well, in purely commercial terms, no. 'X&Y' was another 10m+ unit-shifter and the biggest selling album of the year anywhere, but balance sheets in rude health don't equal artistic achievement. The record feels like an exercise in fat-walleted complacency. Maybe that's the price of a happy marriage to a Hollywood star.
It's an impression hardened by Chris Martin's lyrics, putting the hound in doggerel ("What if there was no time/And no reason nor rhyme?" he ponders on 'What If', for starters), and from the chug of 'White Shadows' to the lumbering 'Twisted Logic' there's a sense that invention's been sacrificed on the altar of grandiosity. Still, 'Fix You' and 'Talk' (thanks, Kraftwerk) are pretty undeniable.
5. Ghost Stories
Chances are you're better off making records when you're miserable. 2014's 'Ghost Stories' wins out over 'X&Y' because it tries to be something different, stripping away the glitz and walls of sound of its predecessor 'Mylo Xyloto' and striking a tone of almost uncomfortable intimacy, allowing at least the notion of a glimpse into Martin's tortured psyche.
Martin's split with Gwyneth Paltrow hangs heavy over 'Ghost Stories' (even if it's only in the reviews), tempting conclusions about the meanings behind 'True Love' and 'Midnight'. It's hardly 'Blood On The Tracks', but possibly as close as we're going to get to what's really going on in Martin's head, where defensive platitude regularly disguises any real soul-baring.
As for the music itself, its main triumphs are in the cut-back starkness of 'Magic' and strange synth loops of 'Oceans', as Coldplay steer clear of bombast and roll out new ideas. Collaborators Paul Epworth and Jon Hopkins undoubtedly help, broadening the band's palette; Avicii not so much. 'A Sky Full Of Stars' is weak lemon squash rave-pop.
4. Mylo Xyloto
Oddly, Coldplay were much better at the old rave-pop when they were working with Markus Dravs on 2011's 'Mylo Xyloto'. Lead single 'Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall' is 'A Sky Full Of Stars' with at least the semblance of balls and a vitality they've now temporarily (maybe necessarily) misplaced. It was a suitably day-glo introduction to a dazzlingly technicolor album.
That's from the cover down. The luminous graffiti decorating 'Mylo Xyloto''s sleeve seems to filter into the music, which has a glow you can almost see. The album's an attempt to 'go pop' (not that Coldplay were punishing us with gnarly industrial punk to this point), from the shimmering hooks of No.1 single 'Paradise' to the profoundly unlikely Rihanna collaboration on 'Princess Of China'.
It fulfils the brief, with sprinklings of Brian Eno's patented 'Enoxification' lighting up segued opener 'Mylo Xyloto'/'Hurts Like Heaven' and hulking power chords cranking anthems out of 'Charlie Brown' and 'Major Minus'. Sometimes all that gloss and sparkle gets a bit much, and it all feels like a patchwork of disjointed highs, but if you can't go OTT with your fifth album...
They were resolutely un-OTT on their debut. Hailed "bedwetters" by surly indie prefect Alan McGee, Coldplay nevertheless refused to be bowed or bullied, and fired an opening shot in 2000 that saw them marked out as a 'new Radiohead'. They would never scale the experimental peaks of Thom Yorke's crew, but that was hardly the idea anyway.
'Parachutes' is more obviously influenced by Jeff Buckley, whose swooping, falsetto-driven baroque-rock is smeared all over 'Shiver' for a start, and the echoing sad-balladry of 'Trouble' to an extent. Elsewhere, 'Don't Panic' is a soft-shoe skiffle shuffle and 'Everything's Not Lost' has the kind of rousing, elongated coda that suggests ideas to burn.
Everything was overshadowed of course by gargantuan breakthrough single 'Yellow', which survived Martin's bug-eyed drowned rat impression in the video to become a song for the ages. Even if no one had the foggiest what it was all about.
2. A Rush Of Blood To The Head
Radiohead comparisons might be a little more apt with 2002's 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head', if only for raging/withdrawing opener 'Politik' which shares scene-setting chutzpah and minor-key drama with 'The Bends'' 'Planet Telex'. 'Politik''s power transcends its influences though. It stands as a marker for a new Coldplay.
'Parachutes' might have sold millions, but it essentially stuck to a solid indie-rock template, set aside from its peers by better songs alone. What 'Politik' and the rest of 'A Rush Of Blood...' introduced was a muscular, bullish Coldplay, popularity injecting them with the kind of confidence that wells up in just a handful of bands each generation.
It's there in superior ballads like 'In My Place' and 'The Scientist', and particularly in the cascading pianos of the ubiquitous 'Clocks'. By 'Amsterdam', at the end of the album, Martin even seems to think he's John Lennon. There's the odd tremble, on 'Green Eyes' and 'A Whisper' certainly; otherwise 'A Rush Of Blood...' is astonishingly surefooted, confirmation this lot were here to stay.
1. Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends
And yet they had something even better in the locker. 'X&Y' was a dip, in quality if nothing else, but it was testament to the band's undaunted belief that they could come back stronger in 2008. All it took was a radical reinvention. Enter Brian Eno and the pot of fairy-dust last seen emptying all over U2.
'Viva La Vida...' (to give it its less full, less preposterous title) had to be good: the future of the record industry depended on it. Well, the survival of EMI did anyway. News emerged that a slight delay to its release had actually seen the EMI share price drop, but Martin, Eno and the rest soon ensured the coffers were topped up again.
Eno's main job seems to have been telling the lads when their ideas just weren't good enough, sending them off with their doggerel tails between their legs. The benefits of quality control and renewed imagination are all over 'Lovers In Japan'/'Reign Of Love' and 'Yes'/'Chinese Sleep Chant', and even a fairly standard Coldplay stomp like 'Cemeteries Of London' just sounds sharper, fiercer.
Its dizzy peaks are the title track, a pure pop belter with a story to tell and a chorus to wake the dead (and all their friends), and 'Strawberry Swing', which might be Coldplay's best song, a gorgeous melody woven around a strange, looped, Eastern guitar signature. But above all that, 'Viva''s victory is in its capacity to surprise — which was surprise enough in itself.