Coldplay – “The Scientist”

Released: 4.15.03

Peak: #18 [Modern Rock]

The biggest band in the world should have been a lot worse. That simple fact makes it possible to hear the rank, gooey sentimentality we’d fear in Coldplay’s music. And yet, listen to the band’s three biggest hits–a huge, emotional anthem about a color; a huge, emotional anthem about time; and a huge, emotional anthem about, well, “The Speed of Sound”–and a far more idiosyncratic flaw emerges. Coldplay are awash in abstract sentimentality.

Chris Martin would hardly be the first talented wimp spurred by oversensitivity to seek refuge in the clinical approach to life. His most straightforward love ballad, “Fix You.” is an apparently non-ironic ode to codependency that all but takes a cardiologist’s perspective on matters of the human heart. No wonder Martin prefers singing about Big Concepts. He’s always seemed mildly embarrassed by his resonant voice, his good looks, his ease with the hook, his dopey in-concert Bono moves, and he once admitted that Radiohead “cleared a path with a machete, and we came afterward and put up a strip mall.” Coldplay’s music radiates that sense of unworthiness, that discomfort with just how little effort being in a mere pop band requires.

On pure sonics, “Clocks” may be Coldplay’s masterpiece, fusing Radiohead’s sense of detail with U2’s sense of scale. But “The Scientist.” an attempted rewrite of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” that turned out to be an improvement, is a more humble, humane effort, a pop formalist’s confession of emotional inadequacy. Over the soft plod of persistent piano, Martin sings as though afraid his voice will bruise his lover. And when he levitates into his limp falsetto on “No-body said it was ea-sy,” the whine encapsulates his dilemma: explaining how you feel is infinitely harder than writing a song that makes millions feel exactly as you want them to.

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