In 2005, my uncle took my brother and I to a local music shop and allowed us to each pick out one CD. Mine was a Coldplay album, and I’ve been a big fan ever since. These guys get a horribly unfair rap, for reasons I’ll never understand. Are they just fun to make fun of (thanks, 40 Year Old Virgin) or are they an easy target because they are so huge? I’ll never get it. They are one of my favorite bands ever.
#7. X&Y Even Coldplay has done their best to distance themselves from X&Y. Their manager and “secret fifth member” Phil Harvey was absent with an illness and the recording process was marred with infighting. What resulted was an unfocused and bloated (62 minutes) attempt at half-assed space rock. The main motif from lead single “Speed of Sound” was literally an exact rip off of “Clocks” (I-iv-VII, only in A not Bb) and another single, “Talk” took its main hook from a Kraftwerk song. Still, X&Y is not without its redeemable moments; “White Shadows” is a great song, bonus track “Til’ Kingdom Come” has become a fan favorite, and of course “Fix You” comes from this album. But compared to the rest of the band’s output, it is by far their weakest.
#6. A Head Full of Dreams The colorful ying to Ghost Stories dark yang that notably arrived only a year and a half after its predecessor. Produced by Stargate (of Katy Perry and Rihanna fame), it goes full on for a slick pop production that Coldplay had only flirted with previously. Its tone is unapologetically bright and filled with sentiments of “feeling drunk and high,” going on an adventure of a lifetime, having an amazing day, and never giving up. Other than “Birds,” there really isn’t a bad song of the bunch. But listening to A Head Full of Dreams is like eating cotton candy. Tastes really good at first and in small doses, but absorb too much sugar and you start to feel sick.
#5. Ghost Stories Just like how A Head Full of Dreams can make you sick, too much of The Gwenyth Paltrow Divorce Experience, aka Ghost Stories can make you depressed. Even the joyful payoff track “A Sky Full of Stars” has the lyric “I don’t care, go on and tear me apart.” But Coldplay’s decision to make a more stripped back album after growing increasingly large in sound was a good one and some of the songs on Ghost Stories stand up against Coldplay’s very best. “Oceans” is beautifully crafted and sounds like a sequel to the Parachutes-era. “Magic” might be the band’s most sincere song not called “Fix You.” And the haunting ambiance of “Midnight” makes it a career stand out. Ghost Stories sounds like a band in transition but few would argue that it wasn’t the right time for Coldplay to re-set its direction.
#4. Mylo Xyloto Producer Brian Eno returned to the helm for Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay’s closest attempt at a full blown concept album. It tells the love story of Mylo and Xyloto, youth rebels in an Orwellian society under the thumb of Major Minus. The band chose a decidedly electronic palette that dominates the Rheanna collaboration “Princess of China” and lead single “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall.” Also noteworthy is a more featured and melodic presence of guitarist Jonny Buckland. His exceptional flourishes on “Hurts Like Heaven” and “Up in Flames” are two of the album’s musical highlights. But overall Mylo Xyloto is an inconsistent record where great songs are too often followed by decidedly weak ones. And its great ones (“Paradise,” and “Charlie Brown”) are better to be experienced live, an indictment of sorts on the studio release.
#3. A Rush of Blood to the Head This album grabs your attention almost instantly at the thrashing eighth notes that open “Politik” and pretty much doesn’t let go. Released in 2002, the album’s themes of uncertainty and longing perfectly fit the post 9/11 landscape. Production wise this was their last album (to date) where the arrangements are devoid of frills and feature just the four of them playing. The majority A Rush of Blood to the Head‘s songs were either monster hits or have remained crowd favorites to this day including “In My Place,” “Clocks,” “The Scientist,” “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face,” “Green Eyes,” “Warning Sign,” and “Amsterdam.” But the real star of the album is Martin’s vocals. His delivery on every track is gripping. Long before his falsetto became a punchline, Martin establishes himself here as the best vocalist to come out of Britpop.
#2. Parachutes The fact that Coldplay was able to hit so many right notes on their first try is proof of the stardom they were destined for. Parachutes is a brilliant piece of folk pop delivered with a kind of earnestness and optimism only possible from a debut disc. There are some not-so-subtle homages to Jeff Buckley (“Shiver”), Radiohead (“Spies”), and Elton John (“Trouble”) but the craftsmanship of the arrangements and performances is all Coldplay. On Parachutes you can best hear the strengths in the tasteful playing of drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman, before their instrumental contributions became harder and harder to distinguish in the band’s ever increasing wall of sound.
#1. Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends This album is the sound of a band who’s creativity was totally reinvigorated, thanks in no small part to the entrance of producer Brian Eno. Somehow Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends manages to be both Coldplay’s most sonically adventurous and most cohesive album by far. Chris Martin makes a welcome departure lyrically by stepping outside of himself and getting more surreal on tracks like “Cemeteries of London” and “Viva La Vida.” Whereas previous Coldplay albums were dominated by one instrumental template, each track on Viva sounds different than the one before – making it one of those special albums that will illicit new and different takeaways on each listen. When “Viva” was released it was seen as a left turn at a time when everyone thought they had this band figured out. And to this day I’d challenge any detractor of Coldplay to listen to this album and they will remember that they don’t.