“Strawberry Swing,” off Coldplay’s new Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, embodies the stripped-down minimalism Brian Eno was meant to bring to the bloated bombast-pushers. For poetic prowess, Chris Martin’s lyrics still wouldn’t pass muster in most 12th grade lit classes, but that one phrase — “strawberry swing” — that makes the song.
They were sitting
They were sitting in the strawberry swing
Every moment was so precious
It’s two simple words and a little alliteration, but they’re just uncommon enough, incongruous enough, to ring pleasantly. And the rhythm of the syllables gives a whimsical triplet lilt:
STRAW – berr – y SWING
That’s Coldplay: mild, pleasant, catchy.
Go ahead, say it — I’m giving Martin too much credit. Maybe so (though not that much credit). But look at these flaccid lyrics from “Speed of Sound,” the lead single from X&Y:
How long before I get in?
Before it starts, before I begin?
How long before you decide?
Before I know what it feels like?
Where To, where do I go?
If you never try, then you’ll never know.
How long do I have to climb,
Up on the side of this mountain of mine?
Eight lines, and only one noun. Mountain. The rest is pronouns and abstract nothingness — I, feel, begin, decide. What’s he beginning? What feels like what? Where did this effing mountain come from?
So Chris Martin: Well done, honest. With Eno at your back, you’re back to creating pretty melodies, and on “Strawberry Swing,” you show the wisdom to stay out of their way.