Song Analysis #50: Coldplay – The Scientist

In one of my posts in which I pitted Keane vs. Coldplay during my week at One Week // One Band back in early July, I alluded to the one song by Chris Martin and co. that I actually like. Or maybe the right word is not ‘like’ but ‘relate’ to. It’s the song equivalent to kryptonite to me because of when it was released and what was going on in my life at the time.

My father was not well. Two years prior, he suffered a stroke that slowed him physically and cognitively. For a scientist, the worst fate of all was to be imprisoned by a mind that knew what it was thinking but that had such difficulty expressing the thoughts as quickly and brilliantly as it had once before. He didn’t say much in his final months. I knew he had difficulty finding the words sometimes, and he didn’t want to embarrass himself by accidentally mixing up his words. Most times, he said nothing. This was the same man who, without fail, called me every single night I lived at university because he cared about me and wanted to hear how my day was, just as when I had lived at home as a child.

Before leaving the house one morning, he kissed me on the head and told me to have a good day at work. Later that evening, he was gone.

I heard it again recently, and the discomfort of hearing the song again after so long came back, the tightness building in my stomach. Seeing that I have suffered through and am going through great change this year and hope can be difficult to find, I decided I didn’t have anything to lose to think more about ‘The Scientist’ now.

When I started Music in Notes 3 years ago, I knew one day I would have to write my thoughts on this song here. I just didn’t know when I would be ready to. I was too fragile to do so when I began the site.

Now is that time.

Title: ‘The Scientist’
Where to find it: ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’ (2002, Parlophone)
Performed by: Coldplay
Words by: Chris Martin

First, the words:

Verse 1
Come up to meet you
tell you I’m sorry
You don’t know how lovely you are

I had to find you
Tell you I need you
Tell you I set you apart

Tell me your secrets
And ask me your questions
Oh, let’s go back to the start

Running in circles
Coming up tails
Heads on a science apart

Nobody said it was easy
It’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard

Oh, take me back to the start

Verse 2
I was just guessing
At numbers and figures
Pulling the puzzles apart

Questions of science
Science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart

Tell me you love me
Come back and haunt me
Oh, and I rush to the start

Running in circles
Chasing our tails
Coming back as we are

Nobody said it was easy
Oh, it’s such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be so hard

I’m going back to the start

Now, the analysis:

Before I begin, I should point out that Chris Martin has previously revealed what ‘The Scientist’ is about. You can read it on page 5 of a 2002 Coldplay e-zine archived here. It would be fair to say that I was pretty disappointed by the actual meaning of the song, but that’s where Music in Notes comes in. As echoed by the many songwriters I’ve interviewed over the years, the most important thing you should remember about the medium of a song is how it relates to you and how it makes you feel.

Scientists have been able to show that music is a cue that stirs up memories, even those many years ago, as well as cue up memories in people whose memory is impaired, such as those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. So don’t ever feel sorry for thinking about and relating to a song one way that completely doesn’t match the way someone else thinks or relates to it at all. These memories you have of songs are individual and yours alone.

If we are to believe Chris Martin, that this song is really just about being attracted to girls and how as a guy you can’t get them off your mind, and even that process is connected to a memory. A fond memory of someone you wanted to be with but couldn’t. (I’m trying here, Chris. Really.) Even if you never saw the video and saw that there was a man and a woman in it, presumably the people involved in the tale of the song, you can see by reading the lyrics to ‘The Scientist’ that there is a healthy dose (probably a far too unhealthy dose, depending on the personality of the person reading) of regret in this song.

Two people have been separated: “it’s such a shame for us to part.” The beauty of this song, although not likely Chris Martin’s intention at all, is that it could apply to *any* two people. Two lovers. A husband and a wife. A parent and a child. Two best friends. We don’t know how or why this happened, but Chris Martin playing the protagonist wants to return to when it all began, desperately saying, “take me back to the start.

He wants to start over with a clean slate, so he can hear the other person’s secrets and answer this person’s questions. As we get to know someone and journey through life with them, you learn more and more about the other person. But there really is no going back when if something painful or awful is revealed, or harsh words have been spoken that can’t be unsaid. It is just is. Once you reach that point, there is no turning back. You can’t un-hear what you’ve heard or un-feel that emotion. Depending on the connection, there may be a chance to mend fences, to heal, to find a way back. But there wasn’t one in this case.

All important relationships, the ones that are worth keeping and preserving, are based on love and trust. The strong ones keep going. And they keep going because both people want it to keep going, and in equal measure. You might say that as his child, I had no choice but to ‘keep’ my father. But in all honesty, despite all the terrible things that had happened in my life, I still really loved him. When he died, a part of me died too. That’s what I get from ‘The Scientist’. Martin sings, “I was just guessing / at numbers and figures / pulling the puzzles apart,” blindly stumbling through the reality of loss, his science, to try to find reason for his emotions.

Martin comes to the terrible conclusion that he has lost a loved one. No matter how harsh the harsh reality that exists now in his life, he cannot and does not give in to the reality, as the scientific explanations are nothing in the face of his emotions. They “do not speak as loud as my heart.” I suppose the easiest way to judge this song is to consider it being about someone that has physically died, from the lines “tell me you love me / come back and haunt me.” But I think that’s a lazy explanation. We all know that the important players of our lives can haunt us in our minds, whether we’re awake or while we’re asleep and dreaming, and whether they’re living or not. I find the song being especially emotional and cutting for this duality.

Nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be this hard.” I think the best we all can hope for is to keep putting love out into the world, while never forgetting that other person who meant so much to us, and before we ever come to the point where we are irrevocably wrested apart from them, however that happens, either by choice or not. I don’t like that old saying, “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be.” It sounds so negative. It sounds like we as humans have no control of the situation at all.

But we do. We have a choice. We have the choice to love and care for one another. “What I do, that will be done to me.” At this time in my life, I have to believe that despite how badly I’ve been hurt, that there is meaning to all of this. And if I keep loving and caring, the love I am supposed to receive will come back to me.

Lastly, the song, in its promo form from 2002.

9 thoughts on “Song Analysis #50: Coldplay – The Scientist

  1. Hello there!
    I found out this blog when i actually want to find out the meaning behind
    of this song and i feel that i’m reading someone secret.
    Thank you for sharing your thought with us!
    I will keep reading yours.



  2. Thank you for this analysis, you did a great job! I like the way you relate it to your personal experience, thank you for sharing that with us! Now I love this song even more! It’s amazing how much secrets and feelings are hidden behind words.

    1. You’re very welcome and thank you for your comments!

      I think it’s important that each person who listens to a song connects to it on a personal level. Well, most songs, anyway. Some songs are meant to be 100% escapist (“party songs”) and don’t have much beyond the surface.

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