It's not every year the British music press has a new movement come along. It's actually about twice a year. The end of 2000 saw what has been dubbed the New Acoustic Movement, as bands like Badly Drawn Boy, Alfie and Lowgold all entered the indie charts with a gentle whisper. The rubric is more a misnomer than anything: It's somewhat of a non-movement, and in this case, acoustic tends to mean more delicate or mellow than the unplugged state usually associated with the term.
In the midst of the flurry of ink, Coldplay has stepped to the fore as the quietest top dog, due largely to the band's single "Yellow," a pretty and glorious ode to, well, things that are pretty and glorious. With opening lines of "Look at the stars/ look how they shine for you," it's pretty easy to pick out on the radio, sandwiched between Eminem's exaggerated angst and the latest sparkly teens fresh from the hit-making factory.
Same with the video. Shot on a budget that could barely cover Ricky Martin's catering bill, it's one long shot of singer Chris Martin walking down the beach, his visible happiness growing with the swell of the song until his grin eclipses the sun. It's as if this music were actually designed to make us feel good. Imagine that.
Coldplay's ride to the top has been a short one that began almost by happenstance. "We met in college about four years ago," bass player Guy Berryman told me via phone from Australia. "We were all living together in students' residence. We knew each other for about a year, and at the end of the year, we started jamming together."
It was all recording studios and chart-climbing from there. A self-released EP and a single on the painfully hip Fierce Panda label lead to a major deal with EMI, the friendly corporate home of safe rock'n'roll.
And some would say that's exactly where Coldplay belongs--the place so uptight they couldn't handle the Sex Pistols--for just as millions love Coldplay's no-nonsense musicianship, the rest of the population think it's drivel. Alan McGee, former head of the Creation label and the man responsible for such "risky" bands as Oasis and Teenage Fanclub, branded Coldplay as "music for bedwetters," a slam only backed up by the music press' constant portrait of the band as young goody-goods.
"People know us as the nice boys of rock who don't drink or do drugs," Berryman explains. "And that's just one kind of image of us that was created in an article in the U.K. and that stuck. It's not strictly true. We're not into trashing stuff, but we go out and have fun. We tend to be careful and look after ourselves."
Granted, not exactly the picture of Hammer of the Gods excess. In fact, Berryman agrees with my assessment that he's more the quiet, solid John Entwistle type of bass player than he is Michael Anthony of Van Halen. Still, he confesses a dark, devious past as a Van Halen fan: "My dad used to work with Van Halen's father-in-law, so I could get free signed stuff, free albums. So I was kind of a fan based simply on the fact that I had a connection."
But as impossible as it may be to make a case against the bedwetting tag (their biggest song is called "Yellow," after all), Coldplay's debut disc, Parachutes, is a pretty swell collection of music. Like the sunshiney "Yellow," the album's 10 tracks are gently catchy, with subdued guitars, easy rhythms and a lead singer whose voice does that deep-to-high thing that earns the band an unlimited number of Radiohead and Jeff Buckley comparisons (plus an occasional snide remark about Dave Matthews). And Coldplay really are nice guys. They sing nice songs in which they say things like, "I wanna live life and never be cruel," songs that sound sad on their surface but roll along on monster-truck wheels of optimism. Take the name Parachutes as a metaphor--Coldplay is here to pull us out of the freefall that's allowed the airwaves to get all aggro and inhuman. An inoffensive bit of beauty in an offensive world.
So call it music for bedwetters if you so desire--but you can't argue with the level of success the band has had. If the platinum U.K. sales and Parachutes' strong presence in the rest of the world are anything
to go by, there are a lot of us bedwetters looking for a CD to call our own. Apparently even Fred Durst leaks a little at night, as he declared himself a fan when he met the boys on the festival circuit just this past month, and it's hard to refute the praise of Mr. Break-Your-Fuckin'-Face. As Berryman puts it, "Music is a personal, individual thing, and the fact that we write pretty strong songs with melodies is good enough."
Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave., 224-2038 8 pm Saturday, Feb. 10 Sold out; all-ages