by carl wilson

Ice Cold Play

Meanwhile, older-school T-dot blogboy Aaron seems upset about Jon Pareles' divebombing on Coldplay in the Times today. Full disclosure: I hate the Coldplay that I've heard so much that I haven't been able to bring myself to listen to more than a few songs. Thus I have no opinion: It always felt like a choice between subjecting myself to more, or shutting up, and I chose the latter. You can imagine the jubilation I felt when I saw that Pareles had done my dirty work for me, but I'd be more than willing to listen to an actual rebuttal, Mr. Wherry - not least because Pareles' arguments all fell into that bad rockist pocket: "insincere," "hokum," "no interest in being oblique or barbed," etc. He was on firmer ground about the cliches and obviousness of the lyrics, but that again flashes up the demerit points on the bad old rock-crit scoreboard, able to address words so much better than music. (It's not that he doesn't try: There are details about "guitar notes hinting at the cosmic fanfare of Also Sprach Zarathustra" or "organ chords [that] resonate in the spaces around Mr. Martin's voice, insisting on churchly reverence" - the problem is, without the annoyed tone, would these necessarily be Bad Things? Not to some ears.) I don't blame Pareles, so much - it's rather that the potency of the poptimist critique of rock criticism has made it supremely difficult ever to make an argument for why you don't like something. We're caught in a trap, can't get out, because we love pop too much, baby. It's enough to drive a guy back Frankfurt Schoolwards. How do I hate Coldplay? Let me not count the ways, at least not out loud, at the moment.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, June 05 at 10:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (10)

 

COMMENTS

that was probably the most critical music piece to appear in the times in the last year. i applaud that, but a sharper knife is needed if you asked me. (that pete simpson quote is so perfect, i'm going to start using that in party situations.) i just dislike how martin trumpets the make trade fair campaign so loudly on stage, but is shy when it comes to putting that message in his actual music. i mean, where's the sincerity there? there's such a disconnect between his lyrics and his message; it's like bob barker's "remember to get your pet spade or neutered" bit. at least bono can say he wrote sunday bloody sunday.

Posted by Josh on June 7, 2005 08:33 PM

 

 

That should be:

"Lack of anything MUSICALLY noteworthy or interesting."

Posted by fatcitizen on June 7, 2005 02:31 PM

 

 

Carl/Aaron,

To me the biggest knock on Coldplay is that they're boring. The music, to me, is almost devoid of any tension; it seems almost scientifically calibrated to reach the "every-ear." Why pick on banal, clichéd lyrics (which happen in a lot of music, including stuff I like) when you can complain about the lack of anything noteworthy or interesting.

Or, as Pete Simpson once put it: Coldplay are the best record in millions of shitty record collections.

K

Posted by fatcitizen on June 7, 2005 02:27 PM

 

 

It's worth remembering that the shallowest sentiments are often the most deeply felt. In that sense, sincerity is beside the point.

Personally, I thought Pareles was on the right track when talking about how Coldplay's heart-on-sleeve emotionalising resonated with its audience, but was put off by the sneer implicit in a description of said audience that started off with "moony high school girls..." Nothing like a bit of dismissive sexism to put an edge on your argument, eh?

But you're right, Carl, about Pareles' over-emphasis on words. That's been a trait in his writing for some time, and I've wondered whether it's because explaining cliche through quotable lyrics is so much easier to do. Daily papers -- even the New York Times -- aren't especially keen on the sort of language used to explain musical ideas. That's not to excuse Pareles' choice of tactic, of course, only to suggest that there may be more at work here than rockist reflex.

Posted by J.D. Considine on June 7, 2005 02:07 PM

 

 

I think your thought's on the right track, Aaron, but it's not about sincerity - it's about whether a sentiment is worth expressing, it's about cliche, it's about crap. The problem isn't whether Coldplay is sincere or insincere, but whether what they purport to be sincere about has any value. To call them insincere is beside the point - and I think it also boils down to calling them inauthentic, and is subject to the same criticism that charge would be. Much better to call them idiots who are full of themselves, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. But probably really *believing* that what they're doing is, like, deep - not trying to *trick* anybody.

Posted by zoilus on June 7, 2005 01:25 AM

 

 

Maybe I'm splitting hairs or misreading your argument, but I think there's a difference between sincerity and authenticity.

This is not to entirely agree with Pareles, but there is something to be said for sincerity in delivery, especially lyrically and I can see where some could argue that Martin's words often seem pulled from those "inspirational" posters you might find on the walls of some executive's office. Yes, sure, they may been written with absolute conviction and those who enjoy them may draw great power from their words, but does anyone here take them as seriously, rightly or wrongly, as they do, I dunno, the collected works of Aristotle (he says, having probably only glanced at such stuff in university).

Just a thought.

Posted by agw on June 6, 2005 03:12 PM

 

 

"I mean, if a band is so forcefully built on sincerity, why not call into question their genuine commitment to it?"

A good point, except how is sincerity then measured? Apparently it has to do with the music not being overly constructed - Pareles complains that it is "faultless to a fault, with instrumental tracks purged of any glimmer of human frailty." You could say the same thing about the Beatles, but nobody calls them "insincere." But in the world after punk, raggedness is the only acceptable barometer of sincerity. (But wait, can't it be just as manipulative a signifier as any other?) I'm sure that Coldplay's fans hear the extreme worked-over precision of the music as a sign of dedication and devotion to the song - that is, of sincerity. Pareles begins the piece by saying that there's nothing wrong in theory with lyrical self-pity, male sensitivity, or musical grandeur, but all the piece really does is attack Coldplay on those three fronts, making the opening caveat seem like little more than ass-covering. I think John's right that the underlying message is that Coldplay's songs are repetitive, wearing out their own formula, and Pareles would have been better to emphasize that aspect (though that threatens to make the article more dull). Or he would have been better off to say there IS something wrong with self-pity and make an aesthetic-moral argument. But to go back to the stagnant well of "SINCERITY" is the worst choice.

Posted by zoilus on June 6, 2005 02:39 PM

 

 

I read Jon P's review *after* I posted a comment, and reading it seemed like his main problem was that the stuff gets tiresome over the course of a whole album. Which is an AOR mode of listening, and tough to get around. JP's brief against cliche goes against Traditional Pop Practice. Both Ira Gershwin and Bob Merrill (lyricist of the Streisand hit "People") praised the use of cliche in lyric writing.

2 critics who stand as shining examples as to how to deal with Dislikes -- Virgil Thomson and Nik Cohn. Both review stuff they don't like, trying to get at why other people seem to like it, and THEN briefly mention why they don't happen to.

Posted by John S. on June 6, 2005 01:28 PM

 

 

Yo. No quibble here. In fact, a few posts below I argued that somebody needed to take some air out of their blimp. For their own good.

I actually didn't find JP's analysis that rockist. At least on first read. I mean, if a band is so forcefully built on sincerity, why not call into question their genuine commitment to it?

Posted by agw on June 6, 2005 01:12 PM

 

 

Hey Carl,

"I dislike" is a sticky wicket. I happen to like Coldplay, the hits I've heard -- the sweet melodies, pretty textures, sweet voice in a muffled rock-pop sheen. Dislike is so much less compelling than Like -- Barthes, I think, said something to the effect of, I will denounce no more, if something displeases me, I will simply turn my head away. So I haven't written much about my dislikes, that is, my *musical* dislikes. Other dislikes, sure, I've let fly.

How to write about what you don't like?

Songs, to the extent that one engages with the words as well as the music (and I have never paid attention to Coldplay's words), marry the emotional rhetoric of music to the emotional rhetoric of words. And some of those marriages resonate with you and not me, some with me and not you. ("You" and "me" posited literally and generally.) So, say, Brian Eno. Yeah, sure, he's innovative hugely influential as a producer and tone colorist, but I don't like his solo stuff; and innovation and influence are no guarantees that I'll like them -- feel the same about Ezra Pound. "Here Come the Warm Jets" -- the melodies are mostly banal, and the words leave me cold, and emotional where-it's-at leaves me somewhere else and shrugging. "Baby's on Fire" -- the sing-song melody, the grating tone of voice, the way the words play facetiously with alarming images (baby's on fire, better throw her in the water -- or is it *him*?) -- I don't get it. Obviously, lots of other people do.

Or, "Hold My Life" by the Replacements. A band I love. But that song, the emotion of the music doesn't match the words, for me. I'm with him all the way through "Hold my life until I'm ready to use it / Hold my life"; but then when the music gets restrained and "spooky" for "I just might lose it," I'm unconvinced. I don't get it.

I guess that's the point -- dislike just means, "I don't get it."

"Tears in Heaven" -- I nearly wanted to shoot my radio the last time I heard it. Because EC sounded *exactly* the same as when he was trying to get his lady in bed with him in "Wonderful Tonight" -- sticky sweet sentimentality about the death of a child -- bleeaahhh.

I mean, um, I don't get it.

Emotional rhetorics and the matching of words & music -- that's the lens I use.

Posted by John S. on June 6, 2005 01:09 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson