The Politics of Coldplay

Writing in Slate, Hua Hsu takes the piss out of Coldplay, part of an inevitable backlash against the wildly popular band. Why is Chris Martin so sad? he asks. After all, Coldplay's lead singer is married to Gwyneth Paltrow and has a new baby. Maybe his songs don't really mean anything at all. It's not enough that Martin takes public political stands for fair trade and other progressive issues. His songs ought to be more political, less personal.

Hsu's argument is smarter than Jon Pareles' silly, self-conscious takedown of Coldplay in the Times a couple weeks back, but it's still off-base.

I've listened to X & Y about twenty times in the week since it came out—obviously, I'm a fan—and it's steadily grown on me. To judge it as an explicitly political record is a mistake (though, to be fair, one Martin might have encouraged, as he's frequently said that he wants Coldplay to be "bigger than U2").

X & Y is an album about love. It's the work of a man who's recently married and become a father. You can hear the resulting joy/fear in every song: Martin can't believe his good luck and he's terrified that it's going to change. He wants to make everything right—to keep it right. Images of repair abound, as when, in the gorgeous "Fix You," he sings, "Lights will guide you home/And ignite your bones/And I will try/To fix you."

Not the most graceful writing, but you get the point—Martin wants to protect his wife and child. Not sure he can fix the world, he wants to shelter them from it. And haven't we all been in that essential position, where we can't believe our good fortune, and we know—we know, in our bones—that life doesn't stay so blissful for long, that our happiness is transient and will invariably be threatened by tragedy and illness and loss? In a strange way, the better off things are, the more we stand to lose, and the more we'll hurt when it happens.

So Martin wants to stop time, to enjoy a moment he fears is already slipping away. In the title cut, he sings, "I know something is broken/And I'm trying to fix it/Trying to repair it/Any way I can." And then, the lovely chorus: "You and me/are floating on a tidal wave together/You and me/Are drifting into outer space/And singing...."

Is this life or death?

That may be a lonely view of the world, but such existential anxiety has been Martin's philosophy consistently, ever since Coldplay's first album, Parachutes. (In fact, when Martin sings about love and death on "Till Kingdom Come," you begin to wonder if this isn't a purposefully spiritual record.) On X & Y Martin's faith, or lack thereof, is wed to an anthemic sound that conflates the intensely personal with arena-appropriate rock. To me, there's something courageous about that; no rock star makes himself more vulnerable than Martin does.

We have plenty of bands singing about why George Bush is a crummy president, and that's fine. Let Coldplay sing about love. Isn't that political enough?