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BBC Profile: Coldplay


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Coldplay's seven Grammy nominations come off the back of platinum sales across the world for their fourth studio album, Viva la Vida.




The album, which has hit number one in more than 30 countries, has cemented the band's reputation as a global phenomenon.


It is nine years since their first record, Parachutes, debuted at the top of the charts. Lead single Yellow became the summer's anthem and, to top it all, the album received a Mercury Music Prize nomination.


Despite, or perhaps because of, their seemingly effortless success, the critical reaction to Coldplay has always been mixed, and it has proved hard for them to shake an early description of their sound as "bedwetters' music". Nice guys


The comment came from Alan McGee, the former Creation label boss who discovered Oasis.


He went on, "if Coldplay have an attitude about anything, it's passing their A-levels". It summed up the view that the group were just too middle class to rock.


Indeed, the group formed at the distinctly not edgy University College, London.

Frontman Chris Martin began on piano and vocals, though he has since branched out onto the mandolin and harmonica. Jonny Buckland plays guitar, Guy Berryman bass and Will Champion drums.


Martin's school friend Phil Harvey, who was studying classics at Oxford, was brought in as manager and the band still see him as their fifth member.


Early interviewers made frequent mention of the band's educated backgrounds and the fact the lead singer didn't drink or eat meat, painting a picture of them as the nice guys of rock.


This was helped along by the band themselves, who shunned the trappings of rock and roll.


Berryman said at the time: "We're a band who like to keep ourselves to ourselves. We don't want to be in the gossip columns or be seen at film premieres with the latest celebrity girlfriend."


"We want people to know us for our music - and only for our music - and not who we go out with."


Ironic, given that Chris Martin was later to draw tabloid attention for his relationship with, and eventual marriage to, Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow.




The fans didn't care about the image, though. Around 10,000 of them turned out for a mid-afternoon Glastonbury set in 2000.


But Chris Martin found the extremes of public acclaim and press criticism unsettling.


"The more people that like us, the more people seem to hate us, and it's something nobody tells you how to deal with," he said.


"We want to make one more record and try to make it the best record ever made, and then retire.


"I'll become a busker, I think. You get to sing what you like, no one's out to get you."




A Rush of Blood to the Head was that next record, released in 2002. With the singles Clocks, In My Place and The Scientist, the album perfected the band's formula of piano-driven ballads with epic choruses.


Again, the album went to the top of the charts and hoovered up awards - including three Grammys and best album nods from Q and the Brits.

The band returned to Glastonbury that year, this time as headliners.


Media attention


Coldplay have always been outspoken on politics and their support for charities such as Oxfam and Amnesty International and in 2003 Chris Martin used the Brits show as a platform to criticise the war in Iraq.


The band have also kept tight control over the use of their music, turning down huge sums of money for tracks to be used in adverts.


"We wouldn't be able to live with ourselves if we sold the songs' meanings like that" said Martin.


After a frantic few years, the band retreated during 2003, staying out of the spotlight and working on the next album. But Martin's marriage to Paltrow and the birth of their first child, Apple, kept him, and by extension the band, in the media's eye.


In 2003, Martin found himself in the tabloids for a different reason when he was charged with smashing an Australian photographer's windscreen, a case which was later dropped.


Further controversy followed when Coldplay's third album, X&Y, was delayed by a year, a move which affected record label EMI's profits enough to cause a fall in the company's share price.


A particular sound was being pushed on the band. Berryman said, "we felt like we had to make music that would fill stadiums".


On the album's eventual release, the band were again top of the charts, but the reviews were less enthusiastic this time.


Rolling Stone called the album "the sound of a blown-up band trying not to deflate". There was criticism elsewhere of vague and meaningless lyrics on tracks like Speed of Sound and of a lack of progression from the previous album.


New direction


Perhaps by necessity, 2008's Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends, was produced by studio wizard Brian Eno, who prompted a change in style for Coldplay.


The band had toured extensively in Latin America and picked up Hispanic influences for the new album.




The decision to take the vocals off one of the songs, Life in Technicolour, because it was "too much of an obvious single" showed a move away from the commercial, anthemic sound of previous works.


The band also took the unusual step of releasing the first single, Violet Hill, as a free download.


Reviews of the album were generally positive but the band's discomfort with the spotlight continued.


Chris Martin said before the album's release he felt he was "about to be fed to the lions" and he later walked out of a BBC interview as he was "not really enjoying this".


The record's title track gave the band their first UK number one single, however. And in addition to the album's success at the Grammys, it is up for four Brit awards, including best British album and single.


At the same time, it is also nominated for worst album at this year's NME Awards.


The critical divide continues.



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