Note: This feature originally ran back in May 2014 and has been amended and re-published in anticipation of A Head Full of Dreams.
As Chuck Klosterman wrote in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, “Coldplay manufactures fake love as frenetically as the Ford fucking Motor Company manufactures Mustangs.” He’s not wrong. Granted, I’m only a few months shy of 30, but none of my relationships or breakups have felt as sweeping and monumental as the kind of love Chris Martin feels in “Yellow”, “Lovers in Japan”, or “In My Place”. That doesn’t mean I haven’t turned to those songs in need.
That’s always been Coldplay’s schtick, at least for me. Martin’s hokey onstage shenanigans, a Diet Bono, if you will, has never really sold me. Save for his hilarious guest spot on Ricky Gervais’s Extras, I’ve never really paid much attention to him. Or his band. His songs, however, consistently pop up on my iTunes, and yet I’m always searching for one grand aural retreat when the shit’s good, bad, or ugly.
When my ex-girlfriend finally moved out? I kept “Warning Sign” on repeat. That one Christmas I returned home for the first time in almost two years? “Don’t Panic”. (Okay, I stole that from Garden State, but whatever.) The point is they know how to embellish feelings, and if you’re in touch with your soul, a little theatricality never hurt anyone. Well, it has, but let’s say it hasn’t for optimism’s sake.
So, now that Coldplay has returned with their seventh studio album, A Head Full of Dreams, we tossed together our 10 favorite songs, the ones we think are the band’s best and strongest to date. Agree, disagree, or don’t give a shit? Let us know in the comments below. If you’re game, we could all cry together in one big, soggy heap.
10. “Hurts Like Heaven”
Very few Coldplay songs can be described as “fun.” But “Hurts Like Heaven” tickles the feet (in a good way), rolling on by with the vocal pace of TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and the dance floor ruckus of The Cure’s most requested hits. “Just Like Heaven”, perhaps? Perhaps. Considering guitarist Jonny Buckland pieced this one together — and it shows; zero in on that solo at 2:15 — it shouldn’t be so surprising that this one rocks with such speed and sound. Ha. It’s a shame the rest of the album, 2012’s Mylo Xyloto, doesn’t come close to this. At all. —Michael Roffman
9. “Lovers in Japan”
With Brian Eno at the producer’s helm, 2008’s Viva La Vida was (like all Coldplay albums) expansive and focused on textures, but what made this effort different was that the band actually honed their sound. It was arguably a direct improvement over 2005’s X&Y, and “Lovers in Japan” displays what only Eno could provide. The chiming pianos are as lush as possible, ringing with reverb. Martin also shines here; instead of highlighting his falsetto, he sheds light on his muscular pipes. The second part of the track, “Reign of Love”, actually fits with the composition where the other double tracks on Viva La Vida don’t quite mesh as well. —Josh Terry
8. “A Rush of Blood to the Head”
Only two albums in, Coldplay already knew they could count on Martin’s voice to carry a song to a dramatic height, which is what happens over the five minutes of this non-single. “You said, ‘I’m gonna buy a gun and start a war/ If you can tell me something worth fighting for,'” Martin sings, which encapsulates the idea that the album is about impulses and the blindnesses that come with them. Instrumentally, “Rush of Blood” starts with barely audible acoustic guitar and ends up in a very different place, crashing with cymbals and forceful strums. The timing of its release (August 2002, less than a year after 9/11) invited bigger connotations, but regardless of historical context, the song sounds like it was written by a thousand people. —Michael Madden
7. “Viva la Vida”
The religious imagery of “Viva la Vida” — which includes a “nah” from Saint Peter and ringing Jerusalem bells — is testimony to the beauty of what is, at least, very popular symbolism. Its breadth is comparable to any number of classic poems, but this is rock more than anything, so it also brings to mind another narrative of dethronement: “Like a Rolling Stone”. The difference is that Martin makes himself the defeated subject: “Now in the morning I sleep alone/ Sweep the streets I used to own.” Millions of us took the time to parse his language, but the precise accompaniment (marked by chopping violins courtesy of Italian composer Davide Rossi, not to mention well-placed timpani) is what brought it to airwaves. —Michael Madden
The strongest attribute to “Trouble” is its use of space. Too many of Coldplay’s latter-era fluff has suffered from excess, but this came at a time when Martin & Co. were left to their own devices, which explains why they let every piece of the depressing puzzle breathe. The way the song pauses before each section, the marriage of Martin’s vocals and that Mazzy Star-like guitar line… it’s the stuff that just kills the heart. Lyrically, it’s arguably their most accessible track to date, as Martin never specifies what exactly he’s in trouble for, keeping more details in his pocket than Hemingway ever would. Of course, there’s no reading in between the lines; that’s where your own memories come into play. —Michael Roffman
5. “The Scientist”
“The Scientist” begins with a four-chord piano progression you swear you’ve heard a thousand times before. It’s almost comically simple, but it also sounds preordained, like it was always Coldplay’s. Martin’s talking about how some things are unsolvable no matter how much data is accessible (“I was just guessing at numbers and figures/ Pulling your puzzles apart”). “Nobody said it was easy,” he eventually remembers in an arching, fragile falsetto. It’s the only phrase here resembling a hook, but really, he’s talking to himself.—Michael Madden
This is the song that started it all. Coldplay’s lead single (in the U.K.) off their debut album. While it didn’t get the airplay and chart position that “Yellow” undoubtedly did, it’s still one of the best songs off Parachutes. On it, Martin sounds at his most confident, echoing the crisp falsetto of Jeff Buckley (who’s listed as a direct influence on the track). Only rarely did such a formidable frontman appear in their later discography. Also, Buckland’s barreling and glistening guitar riff along with Martin’s soaring croon make for one of the most memorable crescendos of the band’s catalog. —Josh Terry
3. “Warning Sign”
One of the more overlooked songs on A Rush of Blood to the Head, this track is an outlier in their discography because Buckland’s reverb-drenched, arena-ready guitars are conspicuously absent. Instead, a lovely, otherworldly string section guides the melody. When Coldplay is at their best, the songs are heartfelt without being schmaltzy, and when Chris Martin sings, “And I miss you,” it’s earnest rather than overbearing. This, plus the track’s chills-inducing atmosphere, makes it still hold up 12 years later. —Josh Terry
The crisp, fluid piano passage that opens “Clocks” is up there with that of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” in terms of memorability. There’s no doubt Martin knew it was a deal-maker as soon as it first flowed from his wrists, but his lyrics are more humble, born of uncertainty. “Am I a part of the cure? Or am I part of the disease?” he asks, which is both a glimmer of fear and an earned shrug. He sounds content in knowing that, either way, he’s probably not alone. —Michael Madden
1. “Don’t Panic”
“We live in a beautiful world,” Martin coos over some slide guitar that sounds like a 56k modem. Today, that line is difficult to hear without a touch of cynicism. Amidst war, injustice, and economical strife, few ever remark on the pleasantries of life, or how amazing this planet really is, but regardless of the melancholy charm, “Don’t Panic” remains a rather hopeful piece of music. Granted, the events of 9/11 have since haunted its existence — especially since this single was released a mere six months before the attack — but few songs offered such a reliable crutch. Just listen to Martin’s parting advice: “Oh, all that I know/ There’s nothing here to run from/ Cos yeah, everybody here’s got somebody to lean on.” In a little over two minutes, he wrote the ultimate mission statement for the band, with a Douglas Adams reference to boot. —Michael Roffman