66. Coldplay - Clocks

"Clocks" is another song that almost didn't make it onto the album from which it became a huge hit. When Coldplay was working on their second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and came up to the deadline that their record company had placed for the album's completion. They had a bunch of songs in various stages of development that they put aside in a folder labeled "Songs for #3 (songs for their third album, which turned out to be the equally good X & Y). But the band, and their label, weren't completely satisfied with the album as it was, and they delayed the deadline. Now having more time, they started working on other songs from the "Songs for #3" folder, and their manager heard the snippets for what would become "Clocks." He insisted that this was one they needed to finish now, and he was right. "Clocks" ended up on A Rush of Blood to the Head and became a huge hit for the band. So even though we probably would've heard "Clocks" one way or the other, the release in late 2002 gave the band something to build on for their next album. Enough backstory (even though it may be interesting). Let's get on to the song.

The piano intro for "Clocks" is one that immediately brings you into the song and makes you want more, and thankfully, more is exactly what you get. The song, like many of Coldplay's, is sonically lush, with each instrument getting to flex its muscles throughout. While in many bands, the lead singer's instrument playing is rudimentary at best (yes, I'm talking to you, Bono), but singer/keyboardist Chris Martin's work on the piano and keyboards is a vital part of Coldplay's sound.

With that haunting, yet immediately memorable piano line, "Clocks," by Coldplay, opens with a pronounced musical metaphor of time ticking away. The punch of the piano on the beat that Chris Martin plays is then echoed by the drum and bass line throughout the verses, mimicking the quick passage of time. Time that is passing us by quicker than we'd like. We're trying to catch up - to get the things done that need to be done, but it time won't slow down for anyone. The pace in "Clocks" is even more urgent than the second hand ticking away, so the sense of urgency is heightened.

Lyrically, the song is not nearly as direct about the time theme as the music is, but there's still the sense of urgency about time's passage. In really listening to the music and lyrics closely while playing it, I found myself nervous and uncomfortable - the song was doing what Coldplay wanted it to, I think.

Confusion never stops
Closing walls and ticking clocks
Gonna come back and take you home
I could not stop that you now know

Then there are some lyrics that talk about wasting time and opportunity. I think we've all done that throughout our lives and wonder whether we're making the world a better place than before we came. Is our western consumerism culture killing the planet or making it better, even at a cost to others? Are we to blame? And even if we are, is there anything we can do about it? I have no idea whether that was Martin's lyrical intention, but that's how I interpret these lyrics:

Come out upon my seas
Curse missed opportunities
Am I, a part of the cure
Or am I part of the disease

On listening to most of these songs for this list, I immediately wanted to listen to them again after the first time. For this one, though, it was a little different. Before examining "Clocks" in such detail, it was just a cool song that I really liked. But now, it's become a song that goes past the pop music surface of my brain and works its way much deeper. It makes me anxious now when I listen to it, and more than a little bit guilty at the time I may be wasting throughout my day. I don't necessarily want to listen to it again right away. But the song has had a deeper affect on me than I thought it would, which I expect is the point that Coldplay had in the first place. Pop music is good and fun, but if they can do it and change the way you look at things, they have succeeded on every level that a musician can aspire to.

So in the end, Coldplay became what Oasis aspired to: a popular, yet critically lauded band who not only established a foothold in America, but a sincere and rabid following similar to what they enjoyed back home in Britain. So if there was a "they're the new Beatles" badge to be worn, Coldplay has a much better argument to wear it rather than the squabbling brothers Gallagher.

An interesting side note is that this song is much more of a rocker when you hear it live. The drums and guitar are much more in the front of the mix, giving the song a much more rock rather than esoteric fusion pop feel to it. You can hear the crashes of the cymbals and the crack of the snare on the album version, but when Coldplay performs "Clocks" live, you hear them much more in their glory, with restraint thrown aside. So check out the this video to see the difference.

I had this one all published and then I ran across this version that Chris Martin did with Buena Vista Social Club. Just goes to show you how different you can make a song with just some tweaking.

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