Why critics love to hate Kodaline...
The bad reviews keep coming, but their fan base is still growing, writes Ed Power
Ouch! Critics don't like weepy Dublin rockers Kodaline much do they? "Entirely meritless" was the verdict of the UK's Q Magazine, which insinuated that the quartet's girly gushings made The Script sound like Metallica and possessed all the devil may care swagger of a Coldplay b-side.
No less scathing was the influential website This Is Fake DIY, which disparaged the bestubbled Swords crew as "boy band material dressed up in an indie band's clothes", adding that the group deserved "a punch in the face". Come on Fake DIY – get off the fence and tell us what you really think.
Over at the Observer their debut album In A Perfect World, was dismissed as "one dimensional fluff from a band who like to play it safe". "Predictable and riddled with self-help cliches," commented another reviewer while the journalist who opined that Kodaline were "hard to take in large doses" seemed to be speaking for many in the critical establishment (and that was before they had the gall to cover hipster sacred calf LCD Soundsystem).
Rather than leaving a smoking crater where Kodaline's career should be, the fusillade of negativity has done little to impede the progress of the outfit, whose tunes, as per the reviews, do indeed suggest a clever, and perhaps calculating, mash-up of Coldplay and The Script.
In fact, the crueller the put-downs the faster their fanbase seems to expand. They've just been announced as headliners at the country's biggest indoor venue, The O2 and were one of the stand-out draws at Electric Picnic. In Britain, where Kodaline moved last year to boost their profile, In A Perfect World was a top five hit and is set to achieve platinum status.
There's a long history of critics and audiences not seeing eye to eye (see panel). In the case of Kodaline, however, the gulf is uncommonly vast. Something about the Dubliners brings out the inner pugilist in professional music writers, even as those same qualities reduce Kodaline's audience to a condition of jelly limbed incandescence.
Why the hate? In part, it surely has to do with Kodaline's chosen sound. Starting with Scotland's Travis in the late 90s, uplifting arena rock has been a bete noir for music journalists, forced to watch, agape and aghast, as the genre went stadium sized with Coldplay, then metastasized into the bleating piano pop of Keane and the 'street' posturings of The Script.
Generally, the musicians in question are perfectly aware that journalists don't like them – and more prickly about it then you'd imagine. Speaking to me several years ago, for instance, Coldplay bass player Guy Berryman professed his shock and disappointment at the gallons of vitriol coming their way.
"Does it hurt us when critics use 'Coldplay' to mean something derogatory?" said Berryman. "Of course it does. I think the reason it happened was that we became so successful so quickly. That's what made people want to have a go. In this game you've just got to be thick skinned because if you do well, you'll have those who want to bring you down. But it also motivates you. Whenever someone sticks you in a pigeonhole – well, your first instinct is to surprise them and come back with something completely different."
"It was a shock when the media turned on us," Keane's Tim Rice-Oxley added in 2012. "I don't think we were prepared for that level of cynicism. Nobody ever is, are they? The only comfort is that it was... a press thing. The public embraced the songs. You take it to heart all the same. You grow up dreaming of being on the front of a music magazine. When they reject you it isn't nice."
Though less successful than Coldplay or Keane, The Script, too, are sensitive to the mud flung in their direction. Talking to the press around the release of their latest LP, 3, they grew visibly agitated after the subject of harsh reviews was raised.
"I was reading a review of our new album in a British newspaper," lead singer Danny O'Donoghue fumed to me. "The journalist gave it two stars. Then I remembered – on our last record she gave us two stars as well. And it sold four million copies. If that's what two stars means, I'll take them every time.
"It's an old rule: if you get five star reviews as a band you know you're in trouble," he continued.
To date Kodaline have maintained a cautious silence about all the acid-bath write-ups, tending to shrug good naturedly then the topic arises. If the hate does hurt their feelings – and, judging by their lyrics, they're the sort of touchy-feely new men who enjoy a good cry when the going gets rough – maybe they should sit down and have a chat with Danny O'Donoghue. By his reckoning they are doing everything right – reviewers loathe them and here they are, laughing all the way to the O2.