by Schuyler Putt | Staff Writer
What does the name ‘Coldplay’ bring to mind? Is it thumping piano ballads, staccato church bell anthems, or their more recent dreams of Paradise? Regardless, the London quartet surprised the world Tuesday morning with a downplayed and unannounced unveiling of a new song and video. ‘Midnight’ is the band’s first offering since they released ‘Atlas’ six months ago for the Hunger Games soundtrack and, apart from that, since their 2011 album Mylo Xyloto.
The song, a sparse and ethereal electronic gamble dripping with layered vocal effects, has fans divided. While some find it a disappointing departure from the band’s ‘more legitimate’ guitar and piano-based sound, others find it a fresh change of pace. Either way, it is new and it is certainly different.
The gentle introduction fades in–an uncommon practice in popular music–with ambient, woody, pulsating synth. This bed of sound is soon joined by Chris Martin’s earnest vocal sentiments: a gently strained head voice heavily layered with multiple vocoders and synthesizers. In the breaks between the nearly-unintelligible lines, calm melodies begin to appear over the foundational electronic drone. The song progresses and, exchanging Coldplay’s typical catchiness for an ever-growing sense of tension and ethereal swelling, builds to no clear chorus or climax. By the song’s conclusion, even the pulsating base synth has disappeared and we are left only with Martin’s final request to “leave the light on” and the gentle ambient reverberations of the song’s closing chord.
The accompanying video is equally understated and unique. Consisting mostly of what seems to be black and white shots from a thermal imaging camera, the band meanders through a forest with exposed skin shining white against a grey and black background. Bizarre visual effects are used increasingly throughout as the video parallels the feel of the song. Frequent shots of a wolf cut between those of the band leave the viewer wondering what it all means.
But perhaps that is Coldplay’s goal. The video is vague and absurd (Chris Martin does this weird dance at one point á la Thom Yorke in ‘Lotus Flower’) and the song is slow. It is aurally pleasing, but it would be a stretch to call it catchy (and certainly some would find it a stretch to call it ‘good’), and for all the arguments that it is unique and new, one can point to the music of Bon Iver, Imogen Heap, and Radiohead– bands from which Coldplay undoubtedly has had some degree of influence.
A person can criticize Coldplay for a lot of things, but complacency is not one of them. As a pop act that has been successful multiple times over more than a decade, Coldplay could easily throw in the towel. Or worse, they could keep rewriting ‘Clocks’ over and over with different words and chords and the world would probably keep on listening. Instead, they choose to boldly push their boundaries and the ones that we create with our expectations of what an alternative rock band sounds like. This is the spirit that drives artistic achievement. So, regardless of your opinion of the new direction that Coldplay has taken with ‘Midnight,’ there is a reason to respect those four guys from London.
(Photo credit: LA Times)