Jueves 26 de Mayo de 2005, Ip nº 110

Will X&Y add up to world domination?
Por Dan Cairns

At the point where Jonny Buckland gears up his guitar for the final ascent into the climax of Politik, he and Chris Martin exchange a look that says everything. “Phew,” undoubtedly.


For Coldplay, setting out the stall of their new album at a secret show in east London, have a lot to prove and have been through the fire to get to the stage where they are ready to prove it. Before Politik, they played Square One, the opening song on their new album, X&Y. The segue into the track that began A Rush of Blood to the Head, their 10m-selling second album, seemed natural, effortless even, and the relief is visible on the band’s faces. But it is also a look of something like love.

Five years, almost 17m album sales and a celebrity marriage since four outwardly unassuming university students took the charts by stealth and a hit single called Yellow, Coldplay have reached deep within themselves again. It has been a tortuous process of scrapped recording sessions, plummeting share prices (when EMI, the band’s label, announced that X&Y was delayed and would not, as anticipated, boost profits for the last financial year, the company’s stock value nose-dived) and endless rumours, invariably alarmist. So, just a bit of pressure, then.

In the half-decade since their debut album, Parachutes, and the three years since A Rush of Blood, songs such as
Trouble, Clocks and The Scientist have followed us everywhere: on the radio, in shops, lifts, restaurants, airport lounges and TV trailers. There has been no escaping Coldplay. And that, says Martin, is pretty much how they felt, too.

“I don’t think about it,” he claims, when I ask him about the ubiquity of his music. “I don’t believe it, for a start. I’m not, we’re not, in each of those millions of homes.” Or rest-aurants. “Yeah. If anyone says ‘Oh, your music is so ubiquitous’, I always regard it as a heavy criticism, and try to end the conversation.” Does he worry that such exposure might induce fatigue in listeners? “Oh, absolutely. Not just fatigue; hatred, I think, is the word you’re edging towards.”

The 28-year-old worries a lot — about his band, his artistry, the success or otherwise of his new album. (Frankly, though, who wants a serene singer-songwriter?) That he uses this tendency to motivate himself is clear, but it extracts a heavy price. A permanently wired mass of contradictions, Martin can veer from candid, tactile confidant to hostile, hard-eyed stonewaller in seconds.

His ability to tap into universal themes and longings, and to set his observations to music at once accessible and profound, is something that seems to make him both exultant and fearful. And wary, too, as much of his own weakness for letting self-confidence cross the line into conceit as of our capacity to miss the point of what he does and why he does it. One of the demotic devices he uses to allay these is a type of pre-emptive self-effacement — a jokey, blokey, Tony Blair-like masochism strategy that seeks to disarm the doubters before they have even realised they are harbouring doubts. (Just like Blair, too, Martin says “You know” a lot, sometimes inquiringly, but more often as an instruction.)

“That’s probably a result of public school,” he says. “Very politely screwing someone totally. That’s what they teach you to do. But my insecurity about what we do is real, as is my arrogance. The success of A Rush of Blood, all it makes us want is to prove ourselves, to make sure that we don’t embarrass anybody who took a chance on us on those albums. You know, some 15-year-old in a playground who’s risked a beating-up because he’s said he liked A Rush of Blood. We want all his peer group to come up and say, ‘You know, you were right, their new album’s even better.’ ”

The band began recording their third album almost immediately after the gruelling 18-month tour to promote their second finally came to an end. For nearly a year, they sauntered into various big-budget studios, with their long-time producer Ken Nelson at the controls, and went through the motions — treating it, says their bassist Guy Berryman, “a bit like a day job; then we’d go out and have a nice dinner”.

Often, they weren’t even clocking in at the same time. “Chris would come in and lay down his part to a metronome click, then bugger off,” Berryman continues, “then Will [Champion] would come in and do his drums, then go off shopping, buy some new trainers. We tried to cheat the system by recording like that and fixing any mistakes on the computer. And we went into the studio knowing that we had well over a year to make a record, which I don’t think is a healthy thing for any band. It was like, everyone feels fine, they’re about to go out for another fine meal in New York’s best restaurant.”

While all this was going on, Martin was finding out the hard way just what happens when you decide to get hitched to a Hollywood film star. Besieged by paparazzi following his marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow and the birth last year of their daughter, Apple, the singer found the attention so intolerable that he retreated behind the locked doors of his house. He and his wife became the targets of a particularly virulent strain of tabloiditis, ridiculed for their adherence to
alternative-medicine beliefs, for their vegetarianism and for Martin’s perceived desire for messiah status through his work with the charity Make Trade Fair.

Nobody would suggest that he engineered this unlovely set of circumstances, but it is perfectly possible to see Martin as the aloof creative artist detaching himself from both the studio inertia and the private-life mania, and harnessing them, bending them, to his will and ambition. When I first interviewed him, five years ago, when he was still the unknown singer of an unknown band, he sat, accidentally but appropriately, in a throne (one of a motley selection of chairs in the pub where we met). On that occasion, Buckland, Berryman and Champion shuffled in their seats and mumbled inexpertly, newcomers to the promotional game. But Martin sat stock-still, watchful, self-contained, a weather eye on the main chance, on anyone who might prevent him from seizing it.

The recording of A Rush of Blood followed a similar pattern — of sprawling, open-ended sessions achieving little, a crisis meeting, the ditching of most of the material and a last-minute dash for the finishing line. “Not similar,” corrects Martin. “Exactly the same, just with different songs. The things that changed are, we have more things to sing about and more people to plagiarise. But the way we operate is still pretty similar: we go down one path at a canter, then we realise that really we want a bit more excitement than this — which might sound extraordinary, because I don’t think people associate Coldplay with excitement necessarily — but, believe me, we could sound a lot more bland.”

When the comedian Mitch Benn recently poked fun at Coldplay on his Radio 4 show, Crimes Against Music, his deadly musical takeoff rang a loud bell, the plodding piano chords underpinning a lyric that moaned: “Everything sounds like Coldplay now . . . This could be Embrace, Keane or Snow Patrol.” The “music for bed-wetters” jibe by Alan McGee, who discovered Oasis, has come back to haunt us all in the shape of a small army of whine-bar imitators, bands that have missed the savagery of his remark and taken it for approval.

Martin, disarming self-deprecation to the fore, is ready for this. “It was only two years ago that we were one of the many new Radioheads,” he points out. “I didn’t write any of the songs that are supposed to sound like Coldplay, and I didn’t invent the piano, so I can’t really take credit for either. Similarly, if you’re going to level that accusation at us, you could also throw some praise at us for bands like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand coming through: the counteraction to the soppy stuff that we peddle.”

The ever-laconic Buckland, musically the band’s linchpin, restricts himself to just the one observation about the making of X&Y, and what Champion calls the liberating decision to scrap everything they had recorded and reconvene in “a little scabby room in Camden” to bash through the new songs and play as a band again. “It took a long time,” the guitarist whispers, “for us to realise that what we didn’t need was a long time.” Champion describes their experience of being back in a rehearsal room as “the rebirth of Coldplay — it was finding that spirit that we had when we first sat in a room together”.

That, surely, was what Martin intended, and duly set about creating the conditions for. At the same time, he was trying to negotiate a path out of his paparazzi-imposed purdah. An epiphany of sorts occurred last summer, when the band sat in a pub in Liverpool one night and had a con-versation they had been putting off for months. “When we realised that we’d only got a few months to finish the record, we thought, shit, we haven’t got anything here we want to keep,” recalls Berryman. “We’ve lost the plot.”

“There came a point,” says Martin, “when we were having all sorts of crazy stuff with private life, that I said to Jonny, ‘Do you think I should stop singing about how I feel? Maybe become a bit more ironic or detached? Start singing about Terry the butcher?’ And he said, ‘You shouldn’t even think about that.’ ”

Thus, when they found themselves in times of trouble, they closed ranks, the relatively anonymous Berryman, Buckland and Champion attempting to shield their singer from the glare of the spotlight. Emboldened by the rehearsal process, they booked into a new studio with a new producer (the evocatively named Danton Supple) and tore into the 13 tracks that make up X&Y. Musically, too, this tightknittedness has produced an audible cohesion and confidence.

The problem with setting the bar so high for the album, and agonising so long over it, is that Martin doesn’t just raise his own expectations, but ours, too. After all that writhing, binning and self-torture, X&Y needs to be nothing less than a masterpiece. Yet, traditionally, Coldplay albums take time to put down roots in our hearts and memory banks. Does X&Y have that long? “Some people will love it,” Martin semi-answers, “and some people will loathe it, because of who it’s by. But every single millisecond is as good as it possibly could be, in the knowledge that it’s going to be pulled apart and slammed and spat upon.”

The singer’s knack for an almost conversational melody, married to a vaguely existential lyric about the meaning of life and love, imbues likely future hits such as What If, Fix You and A Message. The last song, cheekily, steals from the hymn My Song Is Love Unknown, lifting both Samuel Crossman’s words and the first five notes of John Ireland’s tune. If, aptly, A Message illustrates more than any other song Martin’s increasingly hymnal structures, Talk, which takes the hook from Kraftwerk’s Computer Love, highlights X&Y’s shift towards the feel, if not quite the sonic trademarks, of electronica. Just to confuse matters, White Shadows glories in a pumping bass line that brings to mind Can’t Get You out of My Head.

There are enough cigarette-lighters-aloft tracks to keep the band in sold-out stadiums for years to come — they have duly won the coveted Saturday-night slot at this year’s Glastonbury festival. And the meaning of the Dark Side of the Moon-like artwork will help students to while away study time between the end of SpongeBob SquarePants and the arrival of the Domino’s Pizza delivery man. World domination surely beckons.

Cavils? A few. Martin still shies away from the truly killer chorus, favouring mushy modulation and ratcheted-up emotion over the brutal immediacy of a vocal hook. Too many songs conclude with the hackneyed hushed epilogue. But the singer’s habit of repeating the final consonant of one word at the beginning of the next (“What if phew should decide”; “My song is slove unknown”) now seems endearing, and the dreaded glottal stop is largely absent.

As to the terms on which X&Y will be judged, Martin admits he is bothered that some of the focus on it will be for reasons that have nothing to do with the music. “Fame isn’t the answer it is cracked up to be in our society,” he says. “Everything at the moment in our culture is subservient to this idea of celebrity, and it’s nonsense. Great things get ignored because they’re not famous enough — great books, music, architecture. Most people don’t talk about that stuff, but they can tell you who’s going out with who.” He inches towards no-go areas. “I just try to ignore as much as possible, because, you know, Apple needs me to change her nappy: it’s real, it’s not a cartoon.”

To those cynics who ascribe his involvement with Make Trade Fair to delusions of Bono-like grandeur, he has a blunt message: “I would say, first of all, don’t be such a stupid c***, because to say that politics and music don’t mix is to say that politics and gardening don’t mix, or politics and plumbing. Politics concerns everybody.”

Back in east London, a 14-song set draws to a close, Fix You slotting in easily beside In My Place. Noel Gallagher gazes down from the balcony, his face etched with what seems like envy during the Beatles-esque chord progressions of the new song. Buckland sneaks another shy glance at Martin. Suddenly, Martin leaps up to the balcony and embraces the Oasis guitarist. Five years ago, this would have looked like homage; now, on the eve of releasing what will be the biggest album of the year, it comes across as charity. Chris Martin and Coldplay are the masters now.


  15/05/2005. Time Magazine.