Coldplay and Starsailor make a case for intelligent music on the radio
For a few years in the mid 90s, Oasis had its moment in the American sun. With the larger US pop audience becoming enamored of “Wonderwall”‘s balladry and the bottom-end stomp of “Supersonic,” it seemed like the group’s systematic takeover of the UK might launch them into the American consciousness as an assault team for its Brit Pop brethren to follow. But it didn’t take. Somehow, their unabashed reverence for the Beatles and T.Rex was labeled a bad thing, and their sparring partners in Blur were just too fey for a Hootie-fied US pop scene. Both groups have continued to create solid albums. But many Americans can only point to Liam and Noel’s loutish behavior when questioned about Oasis, and it has required his being turned into a cartoon for Blur’s Damon Albarn to finally receive larger recognition in The Colonies. The Verve’s sale of “Bittersweet Symphony” to Nike was likely the last gasp of The Great 90s British Invasion.
But lately, a slight change has been brewing in the playlists of Stupid Radio nationwide. Out of the space between Staind’s high school talent show bombast, the N’SYNCified rage of Linkin Park, and Creed’s moronic, self-righteous buggery rises the cracked falsetto of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, cooing softly over the plaintive keys of “Trouble.” In today’s rapid-fire radio formats, it’s amazing that anything slow is even played, especially if your name is not R Kelly or Brian McKnight. So the fact that Coldplay’s “Yellow” made such an impression on listeners that programmers would allow a few minutes of breathing room between their listless yapping is quite an achievement.
In fact, Coldplay has been nominated in not one, not two, but three Grammy categories: Best Rock Song for “Yellow” (up against U2 – TWICE! – for “Elevation” and “Walk On”); Best Rock Performance By A Duo or Group With Vocals for “Yellow”; and finally their Parachutes LP in the Best Alternative Music Album category. Are things coming up Brit again?
Some point to Martin’s vaguely Matthewsian vocal style as reason for Coldplay’s fame. But what about Jeff Buckley? The DMB fans scratch their well-groomed heads. Isn’t he that guy who drowned that Brad Pitt is going to make a biopic of? Well, yes. But he (and his father, Tim) are also a big influence on not only Chris Martin, but also his Northern Soul brothers in Travis’ Fran Healy and now Starsailor’s young James Walsh.
Riding the wave of recognition for well-appointed, moody rock music crested by Coldplay, Starsailor (another recipient of NME’s rendered-meaningless “Best Band Ever” tag) has quietly begun moving from the world of CMJ to the universe of MTV2 and a stage near you. Currently touring the US with dancefloor warhorses Charlatans UK, Walsh and his mates are defining themselves as another English group thoroughly wrapped up in the throaty dynamics and instrumental touches of the late Buckleys.
And it’s working. Love Is Here, Starsailor’s domestic debut, is lodged at 165 on the Billboard Top 200, and M2 is working them into an influential rotation that is already largely responsible for the popular recognition of Gorillaz, Jimmy Eat World, and even India.Arie.
While M2 – not to mention music directors at Stupid Radio everywhere – is still trumping the godawful moan-core in the hearts angry young bald men everywhere, it’s interesting to note the slight swing that Coldplay, Starsailor, and Travis are having on the minds and wallets of the larger record-buying public. With strong work in a similarly intelligent vein on the way from MoWax’s South, not to mention Richard Ashcroft’s forthcoming sophomore solo effort, Coldplay’s popularity might be the best thing to happen for UK music in America since the halcyon days of “Wonderwall.”
And best of all, none of these new guys have maladjusted relationships with their guitar-playing brothers.