Coldplay – what’s the big idea?

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They’re overdue for a concept album, really. Mylo Xyloto sounds like a Roxy or Zappa album title if you ask me, and based on the snippets I’ve heard thusfar seems certain to cement their position as purveyors of artful, sophisticated pop. Very much the ambitious yet focused Coldplay of  ‘A Rush…’ and ‘Viva La Vida…‘ rather than the uneven flabbiness of x&Y.

While we’re waiting for it to drop, here’s a retrospective of a few of my personal favourite concept albums of the last few years; 6 of the best, if you will…

Madonna – ‘Confessions On A Dancefloor’ (2005) –

What’s the story?

The highs and lows of a night out in clubland, fittingly conceived as a non stop mix, deejay stylee. A many-spangled space age disco glitterball. A shrewdly-referential demonstration of the adage that ‘Talent borrows, genius steals’ it’s a slick and tight package up there with Madge’s – and pop’s – best.

Faithless – ‘No Roots’ (2006) –

What’s the story?

Songs in the key of c, fourteen of them to be precise, and like ‘Confessions…’ above it’s a DJ-style continuous mix. The snappy, impassioned wordplay and cool melodies we’ve come to expect from Rollo and co. ‘Beautifully combining the personal and the political…’ is how bandleader Rollo summarizes rapper Maxi Jazz’s lyrics, and that description befits the album as a whole.

Janelle Monae – ‘The Archandroid’ (2011)  –

What’s the story?

Android falls in love with human – a big no no – and thus must be terminated. A story that draws on popular sci-fi, notably Blade Runner; musically Monae channels the approach of gifted past RnB artists – Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Christina Aguilera – who adroitly bring their talents to bear on a variety of popular genres. Wonder, Outkast and Alicia Keys are obvious sonic references, though it certainly rocks in parts, and the deft use of orchestral accompaniments echoes later Muse.

Thrice – ‘The Alchemy Index’ (2008/9)

What’s the story?
The four elements – Fire, Water, Earth and Air. A potential minefield of cliché. Yet an economy of song writing learned from their hardcore/metal background provided Thrice with the musical tools to make a set of four themed EPs  rather less indulgent than the Wakeman-esque concept might lead one to imagine. Over the course or the 24 tracks you’ll encounter chilled-out electronics; spare, mournful ballads; jazzy breakbeats and folky acoustic guitar. It shows musical ambition without succumbing to indulgence.

Neon Neon – ‘Stainless Style’ (2008) –

What’s the story?

The life and high-times of would-be automotive mogul John DeLorean, paragon of all that was good and bad about the ‘80s financial free-for-all, re-imagined in a fictionalised musical montage. It works because the musical stylings so perfectly encapsulate the era of the story, whilst tapping into contemporary ‘80s nostalgia.

Marillion – ‘Happiness Is The Road’ (2008) –

What’s the story?

Loosely themed around Eckhart Tolle’s bestselling self-help tome ‘The Power Of Now’ – Singer Steve Hogarth had met  Tolle in Utrecht during something of a mid-life crisis and been impressed by his approach. Musically Marillion are closer to the mainstream rock of a band like Coldplay than the symphonic prog stylings of their ’80s commercial heyday, though ‘Happiness…’ is their fourth excursion into concept album territory now

A ll good stuff and proof that the concept album can be successfully rescued from it’s stodgy ’70s rock image and sound fresh as a daisy. Coldplay find themselves in good company.

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4 responses »

  1. Always fun to read what artists choose to write about, even though most of them I’ve never heard. 🙂
    Good with the videos too.

  2. Some interesting records here.

    That Neon Neon record sounds interesting and I dig that tune in the clip. Soooo 80’s! Like you said, that is the perfect music to set a concept album about ‘the Reagan years’ too. I’m going to have to check that record out. Marillion is a damn good band. I’m a bit spotty with their releases in my collection, but it sounds like Happiness… is next on my list when I go to pick up another record by them.

    And Coldplay is a band I never really gave a chance. The oversaturation on the radio and the like kinda made me turn an uninterested eye towards and I kinda just lumped them in with Radiohead (who I gave a chance and never really got what all the hype is about). What starter record by Coldplay would you recommend me?

    • Thing about Coldplay is, as much as I like ’em, they’ve never really grabbed the potential of their success by the balls and tried to drag their audience with ’em (unlike Radiohead, whose output, whilst arguably less consistent has often surprised me in a way that Coldplay’s hasn’t). Basically what I’m saying is that all their albums are much of a muchness, stylistically. Other musicians I like (including Marillion, Steven Wilson and Dream Theater) had praised their musicianship (which is praise indeed, in my book) so when I heard they were doing a concept album maybe my hopes were raised unrealistically – Mylo Xyloto is a good album, but for me, their preceding one, Viva La Vida is their best album. Look out on Amazon/Ebay for the Prospekt’s March 2cd special edition – I picked it up for £2. After that, A Rush of Blood To the Head. The others are ok, but kinda more of the same and not so good (imo).

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