Earlier this week, Coldplay released their newest single, “Christmas Lights.” It’s a Christmas song, though not a particularly festive one. It’s a piano-based ballad, a bit like A Rush of Blood to the Head‘s “The Scientist” by way of Viva La Vida. Much like Carbon Leaf’s Christmas album, Christmas Child, it’s a song set at Christmas, with the season as a backdrop to a song of a man who wishes to repair a broken relationship. (Much like “The Scientist.”) And musically, the song veers wildly in tone and texture, as though disparate elements that were never meant to go together were blended together into one whole. (Much like Viva La Vida, the album.)
See for yourself:
I didn’t much like the song the first time I heard it. The echoes of “The Scientist” and, say, “42” came too much to the fore to make me really notice the song on its own merits. I bought the mp3 from Amazon, queued it up in WinAmp, and let it play a dozen times. It grew on me. I rather think the narrative echoes of “The Scientist” are deliberate and the point.
I learned on the Coldplay wiki (And yes, there is, in fact, a Coldplay wiki) that “Christmas Lights” is not, actually, a new Coldplay song. Well, it’s new to us. It’s been counted among the unreleased Coldplay recordings, a piano-based song that Chris Martin demoed “during his interview with 60 Minutes in February 2009.” (I also learned, thanks to the Coldplay wiki article on the song, that Simon Pegg is in the video.)
In reading that article on unreleased Coldplay songs, I saw titles that intrigued me. I was charmed by a title — “The Dubliners” — that naturally evoked thoughts of James Joyce and Bloomsdays past. But what really caught my attention was the notice there of an album’s worth of demos the band recorded for Viva La Vida that had leaked to the Internet in 2009, songs with names like “St. Stephen” and “Goodbye and Goodnight.” Of the later song, the wiki claimed that the song “draws lines to the Elbow song, ‘Scattered Black And Whites,'” and as I love “Scattered Blacks and Whites,” I was curious what a Coldplay riff on an Elbow song would sound like. (Well, other than “Fix You,” which Chris Martin says was inspired by Elbow’s “Grace Under Pressure,” of course.)
I decided to put my Google-fu skills to the test. If this album were to be found in the musty alleyways of the Internet, I would find it.
My Google-fu skills proved worthy of the challenge.
The songs proved stupidly easy to find. While there were links to several different compilations of the nine leaked demos, those links were all dead. However, a search on “Coldplay St. Stephen Demo” provided me with a promising link at someplace called mp3skull.com. Then it became a question of running a search on that site for each of the songs; the only one that proved tricky was “Lovers In Japan,” and the secret was to search for “Lovers in Japan demo” and not include Coldplay in the search.
The nine tracks of this Viva La Vida demo album:
- St. Stephen
- The Fall of Man
- Bloodless Revolution
- The Man Who Swears
- The Man Who Swears 2
- First Steps
- Lovers In Japan (a demo of the song released on Viva La Vida)
- Goodbye and Goodnight
I won’t give you direct links to any of these songs. I have, however, told you where and how to find them if you are so inclined. 😉
The album, and I use that word loosely, runs fifteen minutes long, hence the “loosely.” No lost gems here, truly. “The Fall of Man,” for instance, sounds like Martin making up lyrics and chords at the piano, especially when the song turns into a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” in its final ten seconds. Or “Loveless,” a half-minute long fragment from a longer song. This isn’t a nearly-finished album like the Dave Matthews Band’s Lillywhite Sessions. Arguably, these nine demos aren’t even Coldplay songs; all nine are Chris Martin and his piano, without any other members of the band.
The songs provide interesting scraps from the creative process of Viva La Vida, though. That album felt to me much like The Beatles’ Abbey Road medley, a suite of song scraps tied together, given polish, and made into a whole greater than the sum of its parts, which I describe in greater detail here. These demos are scraps, half-songs, and it’s not difficult to imagine that, in the studio, some of these were pulled out, slotted into the creative process, and then discarded when they didn’t “fit” into that scheme.
After several listens, I’m not sure, honestly, what “Goodbye and Goodnight” had to do with “Scattered Blacks and Whites.” Maybe some chords, or a piano riff, because lyrically the two songs had nothing in common. 😕
Nonetheless, for fans of Coldplay ephemera, these leaked demos make for interesting listening. :h2g2: