They have some killer singles
This is the most conventional argument in favor of Coldplay: they are a solid singles band. From the syrupy sweet "Yellow," with its rain-soaked video, to the arena-rock EDM bombast of "Paradise," the band excels at creating moments of communal pop catharsis. "Clocks," "The Scientist," "Speed of Sound," "Lost": these are intimate, trance-inducing anthems that take greeting-card themes and blow them up into skywriting penned with stardust. These are the songs that make fans grin like an idiot and spread their arms out like they're big, dumb birds.
Will Champion, the group's drummer, probably deserves a good amount of the credit for that. More than the band's Echo and the Bunnymen-esque riffs or their U2-worshipping art-rock moves, the secret to Coldplay's success lies in their nimble understanding of rhythm, particularly how simple percussion choices can shape a whole song.
Listen to the simple pitter-patter of a song like "Magic" or the thundering whoomph of "Shiver." It's all in the drumming! I think Champion is the reason the band has always been a favorite of hip-hop artists like Swizz Beats, Jay Z, and Kanye West. (Never forget, on "Big Brother," Kanye rapped, "I told Jay I did a song with Coldplay/Next thing I know he got a song with Coldplay/Back in my mind, I'm like 'Damn, no way.'")
And a couple of great albums
In the process of writing this article, I went back and re-listened to the whole Coldplay discography -- yes, this is how I choose to spend my Friday nights.
Like many teenagers growing up in the early '00s, I have fond memories of the band's first two records, Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head, but paid less and less attention to them following the bloated, post-rock excess of 2005's X&Y. It turns out that that was a mistake. After The 40-Year-Old Virgin and X&Y, Coldplay became a sneaky good album band, capable of weaving together songs into cohesive, sometimes silly, invigorating collections.
The band arguably reached its creative peak with Viva La Vida, the Prospekt's March EP, and Mylo Xyloto, a bizarre concept record that's partially inspired by the HBO series The Wire. Those dizzying new heights were reached by taking a page out of the U2 playbook: make an art-rock record with super-producer Brian Eno. It should've been a disaster -- the cover art of Viva La Vida looks like a parody of a self-serious rock band -- but instead these carefully modulated shifts let the band explore shoegaze, prog-rock, house music, and other new directions.
They even discovered their playful side, in their collaborating with Rihanna. If you want to understand why fans still obsess over this band, this era is the place to start.
And some really terrible records
I'm not going totally crazy here. Coldplay has produced some garbage-ass music, too. About half of A Rush of Blood to the Head is bland piano-rock, X&Y is a bloated mess, and 2014's Ghost Stories is enough to make you wish Bon Iver had stayed locked in his cabin forever. Their newest record, A Head Full of Dreams, is a slight course correction which finds the group teaming up with Norwegian production team Stargate. It's poppy, frothy, and light -- but mostly forgettable.
After prolonged exposure to Coldplay, one thing becomes very clear: Chris Martin is not a good lyricist. His poetic musings about love, loss and Peanuts characters can make Bono seem like Don Delillo. From the first chorus of "Don't Panic," the opening track off Parachutes, Martin was already trafficking in banalities like, "We live in a beautiful world/Yeah we do." It sounds like something that should play over the opening credits of a bad indie movie. (Oh, shit -- it did!)