Coldplay and Starsailor make a case for intelligent music on the radio

Johnny Loftus

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.


4 thoughts on “ARE THE BRITISH COMING?”

  1. Have the British made any relevant music whatsoever since 1991? I like Travis quite a bit, and I like that one Coldplay song, and I like that “Woo Hoo” Blur song that’s in all the ads, but come on. Yawn… :oAnd wasn’t Oasis just a Stones Roses tribute band?

  2. We can hardly talk about music from the UK without mentioning Sarah Records. From the mellow, lyrically rich Field Mice/Trembling Blue Stars to the punk power-pop of Heavenly/Marine Research, those bands are in my opinion the best thing musically to come out of the UK in a long time. Even though they never reached mainstream consciousness and Sarah went out of business several years ago, they’ve had a huge influence on the underground indiepop/”twee” scene in Europe and elsewhere. And really Coldplay is a more produced, radio friendly Field Mice. So check out some of these bands if you haven’t — they’re wonderful!As far as more mainstream music, I think the last great bands from the UK were the Shoegazer-related bands of the 80s. By the way, has anybody heard any of Ian Brown’s more recent stuff…Seahorses, I think it’s called, and it’s god awful.

  3. Oasis and Blur are cool and all, sure, but when I think of what the UK has done for me lately, I look no further than the Brothers Langdon and their little outfit called Spacehog. Sure, The Chinese Album didn’t have the consistency that made Resident Alien so widely popular, and they’re certainly not cozying up to the public with a release as esoteric as The Hogyssey, but when judging guitar-laden UK pop by the standard taught to me lo, those many years ago by one Derek Phillips, *no one* tops the ‘Hog in my book.Space *is* the place.

  4. The Seahorses were the band that John Squire formed after the Roses split and were indeed, awful. Ian Brown’s solo output is fantastic however. LIseten to “Golden Greats”. Brown is a genius, allbeit a strange looking one…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *