Coldplay, U2 And The PM (Article 2005)
Here to promote his band's new album, Coldplay front man Chris Martin keeps seeing another Martin in the news "There was some headline about Martin today."
Coldplay front man Chris Martin is sitting in a hotel room in downtown Toronto. Beside him is guitarist Jon Buckland. The two have spent much of the previous few weeks meeting the press, as part of the prerelease publicity blitz for Coldplay's much-anticipated third album, X&Y, and as such have been reflexively checking the papers wherever they go. Naturally, headlines with the name "Martin" in them would tend to catch the singer's eye.
"It's funny, because I'm always checking out news on U2, because obviously I love them," he says. "And in the same week that we said something about U2, U2 said something about Paul Martin. So there were all these headlines with the word 'Martin' in them, but sometimes it was me, and sometimes it was him.
"It was like, Martin Wants To Be U2 and then, U2 Slam Martin." He laughs merrily. "It was extraordinary!"
"Who's Martin?" Buckland asks.
"The Prime Minister of Canada," answers the other Martin.
That these fellows have time to read the news at all is impressive, given the punishing intensity of their schedule. Since arriving in Toronto the day before, they've been live on MuchMusic, done an acoustic mini-concert in the studios of the Edge, and been herded through a seemingly endless string of interviews.
No wonder the first thing they do upon entering the interview suite is grab a pack of chocolate-covered espresso beans from the minibar. "D' you think these have caffeine in them?" Martin asks a publicist, obviously hoping to hear yes.
Even though X&Y isn't due in stores until June 7, it's already being spoken of as one of the biggest albums of the year. Some of that anticipation has to do with the fact that the band's last album, 2002's A Rush of Blood to the Head, sold 10 million copies worldwide. Already, the financial community has made it clear that it expects the new album to reverse the fortunes of EMI, whose stock price slipped last year after the band delayed release of the disc.
Meanwhile, the rock press -- after observing the anthemic power of such hits as Yellow, In My Place and Clocks as well as the group's crowd-pleasing live show -- has declared Coldplay on the brink of world domination, confidently predicting that the English quartet will this year surpass U2 as the World's Biggest Rock Act. No wonder Martin needs caffeine.
"It's incredible the array of talking you do," he says of his trial-by-interview. "For a period of three months every two years, we do more talking than most politicians have to. And you know, occasionally we screw up, and it makes you understand how crazy it must have been when John Lennon said that thing about Jesus and the Beatles. It makes you really have a lot of respect for people who talk for a living."
"Self-censorship," says Buckland, nodding.
"Yeah," agrees Martin. "It's extraordinarily hard." It probably doesn't help that, in addition to being a rock star, Martin is also a celebrity spouse, being the husband of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and the father of young Apple. One can only imagine the endless variations on "What's it like being married to a movie star?" Martin has endured, and how often he must empathize with goldfish.
Yet to hear him talk, vicissitudes of stardom are nothing compared with the challenge of making an album he and his bandmates can be proud of.
"When people talk about EMI pressure, or sales pressure, or all this pressure -- that doesn't really mean anything to us," says Martin. "The only one we really respond to, luckily, is the pressure of not wanting your drummer to come in looking unhappy every day." Indeed, the main reason X&Y took 18 months for Coldplay to complete is that the band wound up scrapping an entire album's worth of material, and starting over. "There was a point where we were doing things that sounded like the last album, certainly in the production and the arrangement," says Buckland. "It became not exciting for us at that point, I think. It was ground we'd trodden."
"The best songs of ours always come out by surprise or by accident," says Martin. "You hit a chord by mistake that really gets you going, and then the whole song just suddenly arrives around it. So you do know what you're doing in one sense, but also you don't. I mean, I know how to play the piano, but I wouldn't be able to tell you what half the chords are in our songs.
"It's actually fascinating to me, because I feel like the musical success of Coldplay is kind of fragile, in that none of us really knows what we're doing. But somehow, with the combination of the four of us, it sounds like we do."
Don't take that to mean the band are just lucky naifs, because there's too much variety and sonic texture in their new songs for X&Y to have been merely the work of gifted amateurs. From the wispy synths that open Square One to the lush orchestration that caps the title tune, Coldplay is relying on a much broader palette than on its previous albums. And while some songs, such as Speed of Sound (the first single) and Fix You, seem very much in the band's milieu, others -- such as the jaunty Swallowed in the Sea or the folky, mildly Zeppelinesque Til Kingdom Come -- are surprisingly, delightfully different. Perhaps the most unexpected is Talk, which features a guitar hook borrowed from Kraftwerk's 1981 synth ballad Computer Love. "We're very, very proud of that song," says Martin, who explains that -- like most of the Coldplay songbook -- it came about almost by accident.
"I was lying on my bed one day, just after my daughter was born -- 'cause I was on, like, paternity leave -- and I was thinking what the album was missing at the moment is a massive guitar riff. Computer Love was on, and I kept listening to it around bath time.
"Not my bath time," he clarifies, to general laughter.
"And then one day, I suddenly heard these chords under the riff. I was like, God, that riff is really emotional when you put those chords underneath it. So I thought, Well, maybe if Jonny just played that on guitar."
Given the song's genesis, it's tempting to leap on lyrics such as "Do you feel like a puzzle, you can't find your missing piece" as being somewhat confessional, speaking to Martin's state of mind at the time. Maybe that's right, and maybe it isn't, but either way it's not something Martin is inclined to talk about.
Some of that has to do with the artistic privilege of letting the work speak for itself, but mostly it's because Martin's lyrics are almost a form of automatic writing, bubbling up from his creative unconscious untrammelled by calculation or analysis.
"Normally, with our best songs -- with Yellow and Clocks and all that -- most if not all of the lyrics come with most if not all of the music," he says. "The lyrics just pour out, and it's best not to tamper with them." He cites Yellow as an example. "Those lyrics just came out. They don't entirely make sense," he says. "But any other words, they just wouldn't feel right."
Thus, even though Martin is passionate about fair-trade issues and has no compunctions about slagging major corporations to the press, politics or social issues don't make an appearance in Coldplay's music.
"People have said, why aren't you singing about fair trade in your songs? Why aren't you naming and shaming Nestlé or something?" he says. "And the answer is, for the same reason. When the album comes out, you can write 'fair trade' on it, or you can have it on your hand all the time." And, indeed, Martin does have an equal sign on his left hand, advertising his concern.
The songs, though, must be what they are. "It's got to be personal, it's got to be what we feel genuinely," says Martin. "And it is. There's no point in apologizing for it."
Source: The Globe And Mail