Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #27. “For You I Bleed Myself Dry…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 18, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

I remember the moment when it became obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to dismiss Coldplay forever. I was playing poker with some friends–most of whom had spent as much time disparaging the band as I had–and we were listening to a Labor Day countdown on our local modern rock station, when “Yellow” came on. Those warped first few chords, turning into that soaring riff and gently chugging beat. Yeah, a couple of their songs still kind of sucked, but this thing was just far too majestic for us to deny any longer. One of my friends reached that conclusion even before I did, throwing his hands in the hair and announcing, “I give up. Coldplay, I’m yours. Take me.” I don’t think I said it at the time, but I kinda had to begrudgingly concur.

In retrospect, it was never really fair to hate on Coldplay as much as we did. True, they weren’t nearly as good as Radiohead and likely never would be, and a lot of their stuff (especially early on) did feel somewhat derivative of The Bends singles like “Fake Plastic Trees” and “High and Dry.” But was that really so terrible? Radiohead had drifted so far from lighter-waving acoustic power-balladry–Coldplay’s debut album Parachutes was released the same year as Radiohead’s Kid A, which had about as much in common with the band’s mid-90s material as it did with Sepultura or the Wu-Tang Clan–that clearly there was a void in post-Britpop UK alternative rock for a group of scruffy ex-students to fill in. Radiohead themselves likely didn’t begrudge Coldplay encroaching on their territory–the band seems vaguely embarrassed by their more populist musical moments, and has especially tried to kick “High and Dry” from its rightful place in the band’s legacy–so I’m not sure why we held it against them.

The other main criticism against Coldplay of the time was that they were relatively weightless, unambitious sorts that were content to come up with a good lyrical hook and crowd-pleasing melody, and call it a day at that, without attempting to push things in any genuinely interesting and new direction. This was perhaps a more legitimate criticism, but really only if you viewed Coldplay as a quintessentially underground or alternative group, a prospect which seems close to genuinely laughable today–these guys were always meant to play to sell millions, to crossover to whatever commercial or movie soundtrack would have them, to headline festivals of all kinds of lineups all around the world. They were nice white boys, sure, and they certainly fit the art rock mold more than they did the arena-rock one, but their songs weren’t about the personal, the unusual or the progressive–they were, to cite the old cliche, about putting your arm around your best mate and singing along at the top of your lungs. And rock certainly needs bands like that as well, with the Naughty Oughties being no exception.

“Yellow” might not have been Coldplay’s best song of the decade, but it was the one that made their success possible, and the one which set the tone for an entire branch of the decade’s popular rock music. And it was pretty fucking great in its own right, too, the kind of greatness that isn’t easily explained on blogs like this, because it doesn’t really make sense–it just has that classic feel to it, that lift that makes you lift up your arms and say “I give up, Coldplay, take me.” It had the same feel of effortless grandeur as “Fake Plastic Trees,” a song that ended up as far more of its admittedly humble parts. “We were all yellow” isn’t generally the kind of lyrical conceit of which rock classics are borne, but it felt kind of right, and it was augmented with enough more easily-understood platitudes (“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you,” “You know I love you so,” “For you I bleed myself dry”) to push it through. It was largely non-sensical, and coming off a decade where the biggest band from the UK frequently expressed open disdain for ridiculousness of their own lyrics, this was almost oddly comforting. Meanwhile, Chris Martin’s voice–falsetto’d, affected, a little collegiate-playing-for-his-girlfriend–basically dared you to hate him, but was too sincere to really sneer at (well, to sneer at and really mean it, anyway).

The video helped. Like the song, there wasn’t all that much to it (Chris Martin walking along a beachfront in slow motion and singing the song, while behind him the sky gradually turns from dawn to day), and like the song, it was obviously traced back to mid-90s precedents (the pacing is similar to the videos Radiohead did with Jonathan Glazer, while the look is vaguely reminiscent of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” which Martin has called the greatest song ever written). But like the song, it was also far more affecting than it had any right to be, nailing the song’s general feeling of emotional awakening and providing a surprisingly unforgettable, quickly iconic image to go with it. It also served as the perfect public introduction for the band, with Martin showing up in clear daylight as if announcing his arrival–although tellingly, none of the other band members appear in the video, as Coldplay would go on to be rivaled only by the Killers for the status of Naughty Oughties band most thoroughly defined by a single member.

The impact of “Yellow” could have quickly faded, if not for what came after. Against all odds, Coldplay only got better as the decade progressed–opening up their sound in surprisingly new and interesting ways, without getting self-consciously artier or sacrificing any of their arena-readiness, a transformation for which they really deserve much more credit than they’ve received. They could still do the Best-Mate-Arm thing with the best of them (“The Scientist” was just as great as “Yellow,” though we can probably all agree that “Fix You” was rather unfortunate), but they also came up with some of the decade’s most intangibly compelling and lyrically obscure crossover hits, songs like “Clocks,” “Talk” and “Lost” which kind of creep under your skin for no easily identifiable reason. Like Muse, the other band that started off the decade shamelessly aping Radiohead (albeit late-90s Radiohead instead of mid-90s), Coldplay eventually ended up just kind of sounding like themselves.

Meanwhile, “Yellow” became one of the musical benchmarks of the decade, making the success of a whole spate of plodding, gently-anthemic bands from across the pond–Snow Patrol, Keane, Aqualung–possible. Eventually, for better or worse, this influence spread to the entire White Guys With Pianos movement, responsible for entries on this list like The Fray’s “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and OneRepublic’s “Apologize,” as well as such regrettable atrocities as James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful,” Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day,” and the great majority of VH1’s playlist from 2005 to 2006. Ultimately, Coldplay became one of the most successful and important bands of the decade, and one whose prospects going into the next decade are just as great as ever. They might have been the unlikeliest band to ever make a claim for Biggest Band in the World status, but a decade’s worth of quality hits and pervailing musical influence go a long way towards demonstrating that they weren’t entirely undeserving of the honors, either.

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow”

One Response to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #27. “For You I Bleed Myself Dry…””

  1. MBI said

    Of all Coldplay songs, you picked the fucking worst — the one with exactly zero redeeming qualities.

    If Chris Martin had been in the room the first time I heard this song, I would have smacked him. That people find anything to like in this plodding, boring, stupid, and infuriatingly lazy piece of shit keeps me awake at nights.

    “The Scientist” is indeed just as good as “Yellow,” though, I’ll give you that. Or almost at least; your statement would be true if it weren’t for the line “Nobody said it would be this hard,” which smacks of something like insight and effort.

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