Coldplay – Christmas Lights

Parlophone, 2010

As Nick Hornby revealed in ‘About a Boy‘, if one is able to write a successful Christmas hit, i.e played as regular as Santa’s clockwork, it is possible to live off the royalties alone for the rest of your life. Lord knows Chris Martin doesn’t need the extra income, which goes some way towards explaining why this festive number employs every trick in the Coldplay songbook in its bid to stand alone as a sophisticated, meritorious piece of work.

Like most of Chris Martin’s piano parts, the opening motif is catchy and recollects those optimistic American Christmas movies you just love to stick on in December, think John Williams and Home Alone. However any Hollywood prerequisites that are soiled by Chris Martins distinct vocal are soon reaffirmed by the romantic strings that gave ‘Viva La Vida’ their first number one single. It all feels very cramped, likened to a pick n’ mix of all their best tricks into one, led most notably by the Arcade Fire inspired whoaas that made said number one the grand sing-along it is. These are not quite the same.

Lyrically Martin adopts the booziness of Shane MacGowan’s Christmas monster ‘Fairytale in New York’; painting a picture of a sad drunkard wandering the streets of London alone with a predictably lonesome piano for comfort. As he is “Waiting for the snow to fall” the music builds before the Christmas lights on Oxford Street provide a welcome distraction to his “troubles” and the ‘epic’ button is pressed, however delving unexpectedly and pleasantly into waltz time.

In 2003 Coldplay released their Pretenders cover ‘2000 Miles‘, a track so musically thin its reliance on Martin’s vocal performance and piano made you fear for its life. To say that the only other additions were backing vocals; the song was the top UK download that year. That entire period for Coldplay confirm they are a band where less is more. Such a version of ‘Christmas Lights’ can be found here, and in retrospect the final result feels a bit much in terms of arrangement and production. Its lovely melody still draws on  those characteristic interval leaps for expected emotionalism and the I IV VIm chords of the denouement mean my mum will probably love it. I’d still prefer it if they just let this audibly Christmasay song breathe a little, as it might get lost beneath the heavy snow.

Christmas Lights is available to download on iTunes now.

– James Godwin, December 1st, 2010

Copyright © 2010. James Godwin. All rights reserved.