The New Coldplay Song Is Awesome, if You Ignore the Lyrics

"Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" is as sappy as its name suggests, and that's great

coldplay credit sarah lee.jpg

Sarah Lee / Coldplay

Chris Martin has a cold. Just listen to the guy. His vowels are long and thickly exhaled. His consonants are swallowed. That soft, nasal chest voice breaks every few words into an apologetic, crackling falsetto. There is a kind of permanent head cold in Martin's voice and outlook, which might explain why he writes so much about feeling sorry for himself and finding cures. I was lost, I was lost oh yeah, but everything's not lost, and I will try to fix you and also, stars. That is every Coldplay song in a sentence.

Or, it used to be. Three years ago, the band teamed up with superproducer Brian Eno to make a record, Viva La Vida, that forced Martin and his bandmates to shrug off their  mopiness. Sighing syths were replaced by rougher reverb, and symbol-crashing choruses gave way to primal thumps. The critics had a point: You can smear mud on sentimentalist sap, but you're still dealing with sentimental sap. Even so, Eno convinced the group to drop the in-the-gutter-looking-at-the-stars motif and act like a rock band.

And today, the gang is back. Coldplay's latest single, the dreadfully named "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall," begins undreadfully. An angelic synth swell lays the foundation for a jangly electric piano riff that sounds like what you would get if Animal Collective remixed Peter Allen's 1976 song "I Go to Rio" (thanks to Village Voice for the sharp eyes on the song credit, which lists Allen as a co-writer).

Then everything gets very Coldplay. Martin's voice, throaty and self-assured, kicks off a talk-sing verse. A guitar line takes the bluegrassy twiddle-diddle from the band's "Strawberry Swing" and adds a few extra diddles. The monosyllabic thump of the kickdrum that dominated Viva La Vida comes back with clubby untz. There is a battle-hymn quality to the melody, a marching insistence that gamely sets up a chorus written to be sung and heard in a rock hall.

Must we talk about the lyrics? It will not surprise you to learn that a song titled "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" does not hold up well to textual analysis. As darkness is to Conrad, light is to Martin: He is pathologically incapable of writing two stanzas without multiple references to lights, stars, skies, or other bright shiny things guiding him, always, "home." In the first two verses of "Every Teardrop," we get two lights, one heaven, and one morning (Coldplay bingo!). There are "cathedrals in my heart," and "every siren is a symphony," and it's all pretty horrible if you stop and think about it. But the point is, don't stop and think about it. Martin's words are more like percussion than prose, marking time, filling space, distinguishing verses and choruses. 

Listening to Coldplay for the lyrics is like reading a book for the page numbers. Insist on doing so and you're missing the real work. Everything that Coldplay does is big. Even the "small" songs are stadium anthems. But the crux of Coldplay's talent--yes, talent--is subtler than the music sounds. It is, very simply, melody. Or better yet, finding the balance between predictability and surprise that characterizes most successful melodies. Hundreds of bands play wistful choruses over the same four chords and don't get much further than the garage or local bar. Most of them fail because their melodies are crap. 

Chris Martin might be a soggy trunk of sap, but he is genetically incapable of writing abstruse melodies. They draw clear lines. They take a shape. They pose a question, and they give a satisfying answer. They open the chord and resolve the fleeting dissonance, and it's all done deftly enough that the hook comes into focus just as it's ending.

Is this song any good? It's a Coldplay song--a carefully orchestrated, melodically solid, hands-to-the-sky, all-around rousing rock anthem about, literally, crying. Does that make any sense? Of course not. Is that description abhorrent to you? Me, too. Which is why I'm carefully monitoring the volume on my earphones to make sure nobody hears me hitting the repeat button again, and again, and again.

On iTunes: "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall"

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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