Coldplay's Chris Martin likes to listen to other people's music. On this new track, he even sings about it.
Song of the Week: 'Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall,' Coldplay
For a group that squats in the middle of the road, Coldplay sure is polarizing.
The politeness of the London quartet’s music irritates those who worry that all the teeth have been pulled out of the mainstream rock enterprise. Detractors claim that all of Coldplay’s ideas have been pinched from Radiohead, Arcade Fire, U2 and Travis, and then bleached to radio-friendly inoffensiveness.
That has not stopped fans from turning all four Coldplay albums platinum, several times over. Then there’s Kanye West, who recently suggested that Coldplay would eventually be deemed superior to the Beatles, and compared frontman and bandleader Chris Martin favorably to John Lennon.
West says a lot of crazy stuff. But as a musical curator, he usually knows what he’s talking about, and he picks his collaborators shrewdly. So outraged was West when Jay-Z scooped him on Coldplay that he took to the studio and rapped about it on "Big Brother." There’s something about Martin’s approach and his clothespin-on-the-nose delivery that speaks powerfully to West. He’s hardly alone.
Maybe it’s just a case of like recognizing like. Martin may sometimes sing like Thom Yorke, but in his restless, omnivorous appetite for pop, he’s far closer to West than he is to Radiohead. Hook recognition is one of his best assets — and the first thing he recognizes about pop hooks is that they often fit best secondhand.
He is a skilled borrower, and an even better appraiser of commercial value. "Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall," the first single from the upcoming fifth Coldplay album, turns on a clever bit of reappropriation: the opening groove is lifted from "Ritmo de la Noche," a flimsy disco record by Argentine dance-pop group the Sacados. That record was, in turn, built around a sample from Peter Allen’s lite radio standard, "I Go to Rio." This time around, Martin isn’t even bothering to hide what he’s filched: he gives Allen a writing credit, and he’s mentioned in interviews that he was inspired to write the song after hearing the Sacados playing in the background of a movie.
So let’s rewind and take a look at how far we’ve travelled, around the globe and through time, with Chris Martin. A Londoner, he pulled a lick from a South American dance hit from 1990 that was first recorded by an Australian television personality a decade earlier, and he got the idea while enjoying an entirely different form of entertainment from the one that made him famous.
To cut through all that historical and temporal specificity and identify a riff that he can use to construct an international hit record ("Waterfall" is already on the U.S. charts) … well, that requires a special talent. It might be rightly said that if Coldplay wasn’t as rootless as it is, the band would not be able to shop around the global beat market as effortlessly as it does. Martin’s magpie nest is a jumble of decontextualized signifiers that he can mix and match as he pleases until he strikes gold.
It’s not visionary, and it might not even be particularly artistic. But it has been an effective business model.
But what about the song; how good is it?
Well, if you loathe Coldplay, this one isn’t going to change your mind. Brian Eno is back behind the boards, so the record sounds great: atmospheric, glossy, immersive. The lyrics, however, are again self-important and humorless when they aren’t maddeningly vague. The title, too, reads like a parody of Coldplay’s unfortunate taste for the morose. When Martin sings about rebel music, it’s almost as if he’s baiting the punk rockers who have always run him down.
This will be another exhibit in their case against Martin and his band, playing, as it surely will, alongside "Clocks," "Yellow" and "Viva la Vida" in perpetuity in supermarkets, laundromats, airports and diners. That’s a guarantee of immortality for Coldplay; a weird kind of immortality, cobbled together from pop scraps.