In the nineties, two bands emerged from the UK as distinguished and fresh to the music scene: Radiohead, led by Thom Yorke, and Coldplay, led by Chris Martin.  I became entranced with both of these leaders growing up.  I have seen both in concert, where I realized quickly how similar they were.  Besides visually looking alike, the leaders of the two bands play the exact same roles.  Both of them write the lyrics and music for their bands.  They sing the lead parts during the songs and play acoustic guitar or piano during them, as well.  The direction that these two musicians take their bands in often follows the same path.  They have both experimented with electronic, ethnic, hard-rock and non-lyrical music on their band’s records.  Although Yorke and Martin share similarities in their musical style and life-related characteristics, there remain significant differences between them in these regards. These similarities and differences lead to the discovery of two core needs in humanity that music is meant to provide.

My favorite Radiohead

Thom Yorke is angry, and his lyrics are almost always acutely poised for attack. Teeth showing, claws out - songs are often based on world issues such as materialism, poverty, war, and government corruption.  Other times they are more personal, but with weighty, often dark overtones: they focus on the deterioration of relationships, insanity and the emotional absurdities of humanity. The names of songs like “Knives Out” and “I Am a Wicked Child” are good examples of his style.  The music he writes is tense and serious due to the usage of distorted minor chord combinations.  His music exerts a pessimistic view of the world to most, and to others a strong desire for it to change, or to change it themselves, from its corrupt state.

My favorite Coldplay

Chris Martin’s music is unfailingly uplifting and romantic.  The names of his songs show their optimistic nature; such as “Beautiful World” and “God Put a Smile upon Your Face”.  They give feelings of hope to the listener.  His music incorporates major chord patterns, causing the mood of his songs to be light-hearted.  Lyrically, his focus is on the love that he has encountered throughout his life and the beauty found in daily situations.  Martin’s music is cheesy to some, but most perceive it as enjoyably catchy and emotionally appealing.

Thom Yorke has many mysterious and haunting characteristics.  He has an injured left eye that stays half-shut, giving him a look of being consistently demented.  He wears the color black in most concerts and public appearances and is seen in photographs with a snarling look of malcontent.  Yorke seems to take life seriously, and his music as very personal.  During concerts, he is known to yell at audience members if interrupted and lose his temper if a song does not go as he planned.  His music is a close reflection of his life characteristics. 

The life of Chris Martin is content and joyful.  When in public, he and his band are seen wearing bright colors and big smiles, proving their attitude to be cheerful.  Martin greets his audience with praise and gratitude after every song.  When a problem occurs on stage, he is better known to laugh and move on than to be upset or stay stuck in the moment. He dances around on stage in every show, smiling and laughing, like it is the best day of his life. These characteristics are played out in the overall optimism of the songs he writes. 

Faces of Martin and Yorke overlayed

Faces of Martin and Yorke overlayed

Although they have several similarities, Chris Martin and Thom Yorke prove to be contrasting in several significant ways.  The fact that they share a fan base seems confusing.  The explanation is that the differences they have apply to different aspect of the listener’s lives.  I, like other fans, enjoy these two bands because of some qualities they share, but also for the characteristics that they differ in greatly.  One is yin, the other yang. One is a glass-half-full perspective (a theme Martin explores in his song "Glasses of Water") and the other half-empty. The question this dichotomy introduces is imperative to understanding the purpose of music: is it to simply get us through the day? Is it here to provide a rose-colored lens to look through, or to divert our focus from the everyday problems we all are so aware of to the mystery and beauty of what is all around us that we might be missing? Or is the purpose of art to magnify the hidden issues? To snatch the wool from our eyes, rip the bandaid off, and make us feel something real in a raw, untempered delivery. Is music meant to sustain us or to change us? To cheer on to our play of life or to chide us as our biggest critic. Is music here to bolster a life all about working in the harsh, cynical yet remarkably productive New Yorke, or vacationing in the sublimely ignorant and peaceful Lake Martin? Well, I like New Yorke and Lake Martin, and I need both. I need the rough streets to chisel me down to being a life that's worth living, and the other to soak in the warmth of all that's worth living for in life. Music needs both. Humanity needs both.

Let's be real: Radiohead is a way better band, musically. Chris Martin even has hinted at wanting to sound like Radiohead at the beginning. From Rolling Stone: "At last night's free Coldplay show in London, frontman Chris Martin joked that his band's song "God Put a Smile on Your Face" sounded an awful lot like Radiohead's "2 + 2 = 5." "Sorry, we shouldn't be talking about plagirism," he joked. "Ignore that!"" Elsewhere Martin said "Sometimes I feel like they [Radiohead] cleared a path with a machete, and we came afterward and put up a strip mall," he says. "I would still give my left ball to write anything as good as OK Computer." 

I say all that because, guess who played at the Superbowl and who didn't? Most people know Coldplay and not Radiohead. I think that is revealing. Most people want an IV of Coldplay music, and would rather ignore Radiohead music. They would rather keep the wool over their eyes, stay in that cushy, ignorant, sunny place and never face the hard facts. But music has more to offer. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater (as I said, I love Coldplay - the best concert I've ever been to by far), but let's listen to something that is musically incredible while emotionally and intellectually challenging. If you have never listened to Radiohead, go with Chris Martin's suggestion: start with OK Computer. If you are a Radiohead...head...that thinks Coldplay is cheesy: get out in the sun a little - maybe start with Viva La Vida. I think Radiohead and Coldplay are like Clark Kent and Lex Luthor, protons and electrons, your mother and her smart phone: they can't live with each other, but they can't live without each other either. They are equal but opposites. They need each other.

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