Song 169: Coldplay, “The Scientist” (2003)


A lot of people dislike Coldplay, and since I’m often one of them, I completely understand why: the mawkishness, the outfits, the piano that looks like The Who’s magic bus. But I love A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay’s second album, which hit something of a sweet spot for the band. They still had some of the youthful hunger of the band that made Parachutes, and they hadn’t yet softened into the lump they turned into only one record later.

Not that there’s anything remotely edgy about A Rush of Blood to the Head; it’s as smooth as rock gets. But it’s also very confident. Later Coldplay songs, even ones I enjoy (like the feisty “Lost”) have a hint of desperation to them, as if the band is trying on different clothes and you’re stationed outside the dressing room to provide validation. At some point you just have to say: look, Chris Martin, none of those epaulets look good on you.

“The Scientist” is everything its critics say. It’s maudlin, it’s mopey, and it’s flat. But I think that’s sort of the point. The narrator of “The Scientist” is one sad dude (and yeah, this sadsack sounds like he could only be a dude), and the flatness of the production perfectly matches the guy’s disaffection after so many attempts at trying to connect. Apparently Martin wrote the song after listening to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, which makes sense, not because this song is just as good as that record (not much is), but because both share a serene kind of sadness.

Then there’s the fact that this song is just flat-out gorgeous. The melody is one of my absolute favorites, and even though the sappiness of Chris Martin usually gets on my nerves, I love how he sings “You don’t know how lovely you are.” This song is very simple in lots of ways, but I find it emotionally confusing overall, in a good way. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to be a person sometimes, and I’m glad there are songwriters out there who agree.


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