Thanks to a newfound sense of liberation and acceptance, members of Brit super- group Coldplay find themselves in a good place on offering up their fifth album, writes James Wigney
Identity crisis? What identity crisis?
HE is a rockstar millionaire, fronts arguably the biggest band of his generation and is married to an Oscarwinning actress, but a beautiful woman can still turn Chris Martin to jelly.
On its fifth album, Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay has brought in a guest singer for the first time and frontman Martin ( pictured) says the prospect of asking R’n’B goddess Rihanna to do the honours reduced him to an awkward, bumbling mess.
Martin had written the song in question, Princess of China, with the Barbadian beauty in mind, thinking he would offer a song to her as he had done for artists such as Jamelia and his former girlfriend, Natalie Imbruglia.
But after showing it to his bandmate Guy Berryman, they decided it would be better done as a duo for the album they were working on.
So at a star-studded New Year’s Eve bash in Las Vegas last year, hosted by their mutual friend Jay-Z, Martin finally plucked up the courage, which was, as the self-deprecating Englishman acknowledges, not unlike asking the hot girl to the school dance.
‘‘ That was exactly how it felt,’’ Martin says with a chuckle, sharing a couch with guitarist Jonny Buckland in a New York studio.
‘‘ It was like in Four Weddings and a Funeral, when Hugh Grant chases after the girl and goes ‘ do you think, um possibly if I didn’t say, er, how would you feel about not, not singing on this?’ I was like a bumbling mess.’’
It might have taken him a while to get there but Martin says the inclusion of the duet, the embracing of new sounds from dance to hip-hop to industrial, and the decision to make Mylo Xyloto a concept album are all good indicators of where Coldplay is as a band in 2011.
Having arrived with a bang more than a decade ago with the album Parachutes and its monster hit Yellow , and following it up with the even bigger, multiple Grammy-winning A Rush of Blood to the Head in 2002, Coldplay was having something of an identity crisis after the release of 2005 album X& Y.
It was around that time the New York Times labelled the British foursome ‘‘ the most insufferable band of the decade’’, and as a band whose ascent coincided with that of social media and the blogosphere, the level of vitriol aimed their way seemed far out of proportion to their achievements or perceived crimes.
But from that baptism of fire came a revelation.
‘‘ I think once you accept that hatred then you can focus on entertaining the people who like you or want to like you,’’ Martin says.
‘‘ But definitely for a period, probably around X& Y, when we hadn’t yet learnt how to switch off Google and you could put in Coldplay and see all the results.
‘‘ But I think everybody for a while was a bit overwhelmed by the mass of opinion.’’
The band emerged all the stronger from the experience, enlisting the help of sonic guru Brian Eno for Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, which became the world’s highest selling album of 2008, with more than 9 million copies sold.
Buckland says the new album is very much a development from its predecessor, and builds on the confidence and focus that Eno brought to bear.
The band even coined a term for the input of the man who first found fame with ’ 70s act Roxy Music and went on to produce seven albums for U2 – Enoxification.
‘‘ It’s a description of how he fits into the process,’’ Martin says.
‘‘ It isn’t producing, it’s his own weird thing. He plays in the room as a band member but it’s so hard to explain what he does.’’
Buckland has a stab: ‘‘ He allows us to feel free and to feel like it’s OK to look stupid and to do things that maybe don’t work.
‘‘ The main thing he brings is just an enjoyment of discovering new things.’’
Despite having had a string of hit singles from Yellow to Clocks to
Speed of Sound to Viva La Vida, the band is adamant Coldplay is best suited to the longer album format.
‘‘ People barely listen to whole songs any more, never mind whole albums, so we thought let’s go the other way and make the best album we possibly can,’’ Buckland says.
‘‘ We wanted to make the most meaningful and coherent 45 minutes of music that we could.’’
Five albums in, Coldplay remains a strange mix of self-assuredness and insecurity.
During this interview, which took place a couple of weeks after they had delivered the finished album to the label but a month before its release, Martin and Buckland admit to being more nervous than ever about how it will be received.
‘‘ If you care about something and you put everything into it, whether it’s an album or a cake, you are a bit nervous when people are about to taste it,’’ Martin says.
‘‘ It actually gets harder because you hope things will be assessed for themselves and not too much because of your history or the way you are perceived.’’
That said, Martin ( pictured) and his bandmates also seem more comfortable with where they fit into the music pantheon. Just a few years ago, as the band was pondering entering its second decade, Martin said he acutely felt the pressure of producing something truly great and hinted the band could split sooner rather than later.
But their newfound sense of experimentation and their enduring success has also brought liberation and acceptance.
‘‘ I think if there is one thing that we have tried to avoid on our fifth record it’s that feeling of trying to be somebody else,’’ Martin says. ‘‘ There are a couple of moments on the new record where you can’t really hear what the influences are, which is possibly a good thing.
‘‘ I think that once you accept that you can never outdo the Beatles then you can relax a bit.
‘‘ No matter what happens you can never be the biggest band ever.’’
Coldplay recently visited these shores to headline the Splendour in the Grass festival but Martin, despite starting a European tour in December, is not sure when the band will be back this way.
‘‘ We haven’t even got the selfassurance to order breakfast right now let alone plan a tour,’’ he says, wryly. ‘‘ We will wait and see a bit.’’
The band has long had a loyal following in Australia and teamed with John Farnham for a rousing version of You’re the Voice at the Sydney Sound Relief bushfire fundraiser on their 2009 tour.
They have also enlisted the help of another Australian music great on the new album’s first single, Every
Teardrop is a Waterfall, which features a sample from Peter Allen’s
Martin was watching Alejandro Gonzalez Iarritu’s film Biutiful, when a two-chord riff from a song used in the movie got stuck in his head. ‘‘ It was this Euro anthem called
Ritmo De La Noche and that in itself was a sample of I GoToRio,’’ Martin says. ‘‘ Then I learnt about Hugh Jackman doing The Boy From Oz so we wrote to Peter Allen’s estate and asked to use it and they very nicely said ‘ yes’. In return for a small fee of course.’’
So first Farnham, now Allen, who’s next, Rolf Harris?
‘‘ I’m sure he is nervous,’’ Martin says. ‘‘ Will was singing Rolf’s version
of Stairway To Heaven the other day,’’ offers Buckland.
‘‘ Will does a great Rolf Harris impression,’’ agrees Martin.