YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


For Coldplay, time to turn up the heat

Sensing it got off-track with 'X&Y,' the band changes course with the rhythms of 'Viva la Vida' and an L.A.-launched tour. And if the bashers are out in force, there are always the butterflies.

June 22, 2008|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

CHRIS MARTIN was on the floor working out the knots. As his handlers hovered, the usually affable Coldplay singer stretched out on the carpet in a dim and airless room backstage at the Jimmy Kimmel show. It was hours before show-time and the singer's muscles were tight and his expression sour. Finally, he looked up with pleading eyes. "Can we escape? Let's go somewhere else. Maybe some place with trees? I have a car and a driver . . ."

A few minutes later, the lanky Brit ducked through an alleyway behind the talk show's Hollywood Boulevard studios and climbed into an ebony SUV that whisked him and his visitor up the hill to Griffith Park. "This looks good," he said, tapping the window. "Yes, let's stop here." As soon as his sneakers hit the grass, the black-clad Martin was as perky as the Labrador that trotted past him on a path. Hummingbirds and butterflies were in the air and Martin was at ease, enough so that he started making confessions and jokes which, for him, are hard to separate.

"Like millions of people in the world, I can't listen to Coldplay," Martin said with a daft wink. "But my reason is professional. You see, I'm always thinking about the next thing. I'm also always looking for something that will inspire the next thing. Look, we're the one band we can't plagiarize. So really there's no point in me listening to it. If I think, 'Well, that's good,' then I'll want to use it, which won't work. And if I think, 'Hey that's terrible,' then I'll be depressed over breakfast. It's a classic lose-lose situation."

If you listen to Coldplay -- and many people do, considering the 11.2 million albums they've sold in the U.S. alone -- then you already know that Martin is an earnest voice in an ironic age. That has opened the band up to savage insults (Noel Gallagher once sneered that they were "four Didos with willies") but instead of retreating, Martin decided to join in the sport. No one gives Chris Martin more grief these days than Martin himself. He makes fun of his hair, clothes, diet and famous falsetto. He even mocks himself for thinking, deep-down, that he's cool for not being cool: "We've never been about being cool and we never will be. And I think in a way that's quite cool. But I can't think about it too much -- because if you think about it then you automatically aren't cool. Wait, I've gone too far. I'm not cool. Again."

Coldplay has a new album, "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends," which hit stores this past Tuesday and arrived with considerable heat. The lead single, "Viva la Vida," hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 a few days ago and, at iTunes, the pre-orders for the album were the largest in the history of the digital merchant. The band became famous for polished, piano-based songs of soaring pop exultation and rainy-day reflection, but with this new studio album, their fourth, they have made a bid at reinvention. The songs are still from the heart but maybe more from the gut.

No matter what, Coldplay won't be able to win over a certain constituency that, frankly, has detested them too much and for too long to start listening now. Jon Pareles of the New York Times once called them the "most insufferable band of the decade," which might say less about the band and more about how fashionable it has become to slag them. Martin said it's because he wears his heart on his sleeve when he sings. "If you allow yourself to be vulnerable in your music, people will feel it a lot more," Martin said. "But a lot more people will also hate it or mock it. It's almost like a deal with the devil, but I'm happy to take that deal. It doesn't feel right to me to sing about stuff I don't believe in."

Campus as catalyst

In SEPTEMBER 1996, a shy freshman named Jonny Buckland, fresh from a Welsh town called Mold, arrived with his acoustic guitar at University College London. His plan was to look at the stars (he was studying astronomy) but his life took a different path when, during orientation week, he met Martin, a gangly kid from leafy Devon, who coaxed him into a music partnership.

They would be joined by bassist Guy Berryman, a handsome Scot who came to the university to study engineering. He had heard Martin's amateur attempts at songwriting and, after a few rounds at a pub, lurched across the room and demanded membership in the band. Will Champion, an anthropology student who knew more about tribes than he did drums, was brought in to keep the beat. They called themselves Starfish, but the name didn't stick. They pinched a better one from "Child's Reflections, Cold Play," a 1997 collection by American poet Philip Horky.

Their 2000 debut album, "Parachutes," yielded the yearning, breakthrough hit "Yellow" and the 2002 follow-up, "A Rush of Blood to the Head," came with a flurry of hit singles: "In My Place," "Clocks" and "The Scientist." That's when things got complicated. Relentless tour dates, the tug of their personal lives and the turbulence of success put Coldplay in a shaky place.

Los Angeles Times Articles