With some 20 million albums sold worldwide, it’s clear Coldplay has its share of fans. What surprises singer Chris Martin is all the people who actively hate the band.
Coldplay doesn’t inspire much ambivalence.
“Everyone tells me it’s very healthy,” Martin recently told The Associated Press. “It’s very depressing, but it’s very healthy. We always have this bubbling level of vitriol.”
Both sides can renew the debate with Tuesday’s release of “X & Y,” the band’s third album. The disc is an ambitious attempt to cement Coldplay’s status as one of the world’s top rock bands.
Britain’s New Musical Express magazine called it Coldplay’s best. Blender called it a masterpiece, giving it five out of five stars. Yet the influential Jon Pareles of The New York Times called Coldplay “the most insufferable band of the decade.”
The music is “supposed to be compassionate, empathetic, magnanimous, inspirational,” Pareles wrote on Sunday. “But when the music swells up once more with tremolo guitar and chiming keyboards, and Mr. Martin’s voice breaks for the umpteenth time, it sounds like hokum to me.”
Is it his hair?
Martin said he’s never been able to pin down the source of such antipathy.
“Maybe it’s something to do with my haircut,” he said. “Maybe we’re too feminine for the masculine and too masculine for the feminine. Whatever we go through personally and publicly, we’re so blessed because we have four of us and we’re best friends, so we go through it together.”
Coldplay took one recent criticism to heart. When the New York Daily News panned its concert as dull because of a concentration of slow-moving songs, Coldplay changed its set.
“That’s the great thing about people who hate us,” he said. “We can suck out the energy and make it into something positive. It’s like in ‘Back to the Future,’ where you have this device that can turn garbage into a time traveler.”
Certainly the initial signs for “X & Y” are positive. “Speed of Sound” is a beauty, immediately falling into place with the memorable melodies of “Yellow” and “Clocks” and darting up the sales charts. (The CD was No. 1 on amazon.com the day before its release.)
Martin, 28, has a handful of artists that formed his musical worldview. There’s the expected: the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley; and a more up-to-date list: U2, Radiohead, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and the Icelandic droners Sigur Ros. Much of the latter list is evident on “X & Y,” which often has a chilly, 1980s-inspired sound.
Martin had an upper middle-class upbringing and went to schools that commonly produce businessmen and lawyers. As a music-obsessed 15-year-old, he was curious what his teacher would say when he confided he wanted to be in a band.
“I thought he was going to have me expelled,” he recalled. “But, in fact, he said it was OK, and from that moment on, it was what I wanted to do.”
He’s undoubtedly far richer than any of his classmates. Coldplay’s own business impact is such that its record label, Capitol, explained away lower-than-expected earnings last year by telling Wall Street it was partly because the band’s disc had been delayed.
Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman met during their first week at University College in London and formed Coldplay.
More than any band in recent history except for Jakob Dylan’s Wallflowers, Coldplay is typically seen as Martin and three other guys. U2’s Bono is the definition of a rock frontman, but even casual fans know The Edge.
Dreaming of topping U2
Part of that Martin ascribes to his tabloid fame as Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband. (Martin said he’s used to the paparazzi now. “I’ve just come to terms with the fact that there is a group of people out there who is interested in one side of things that I’m not really interested in,” he said).
Still, Martin maintained: “The four of us are non-negotiable. ... Anyone who knows anything can tell from listening that it’s reliant on all four of us.”
Even while acknowledging a musical debt to U2, Coldplay makes no secret of its desire to topple Bono’s gang as the world’s top rock band.
“To me, they’re like Mount Everest or the Taj Mahal or the Sears Tower,” Martin said. “They’re a great, great thing. And if you’re going to do something, you may as well aim to do something great. I’m not saying we’re better than them. I’m just saying if you’re going to aim for anything, you might as well aim for the best.”
That ambition is partly what caused Coldplay trouble when it began recording “X & Y.”
Coldplay dismissed longtime producer Ken Nelson, and went back to work with Danton Supple. The effect was like the Beatles once described in bringing organist Billy Preston to the recording studio: The band felt it had to behave and concentrate in front of a stranger.
Eventually, Coldplay finished an album that satisfied the quartet.
And that’s as much as Coldplay can do to quiet its detractors, he said.
“If everyone lays into this record or the tour and we haven’t put everything into it, then we’d be much more upset, because we’d know that we hadn’t really tried,” Martin said.
“As it is, from day one we’ve always put everything into it as passionately as possible and as naturally as possible, so we just have to accept it. No one can say that we don’t work hard or we don’t try hard. If people don’t like it, they don’t like it. What can we do about it? Nothing.”