February 16, 2001
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
While the trend in American alternative rock has been toward the hyper-aggressive over
the last few years, our Britpop counterparts across the ocean have gone to the opposite
extreme, growing progressively wimpier with the twee warblings of artists like Travis and
Badly Drawn Boy.
Roundly hailed as "the next Radiohead" and the band of the year after its
2000 debut, "Parachutes" (Parlophone/Nettwerk), Coldplay doesn't deviate from
this trend. Bandleader Chris Martin is yet another sensitive middle-class university
student with an acoustic guitar and an overweening devotion to Jeff Buckley.
"Bedwetter's music," Alan McGee calls it, and as the man who practically
invented Britpop with Creation Records bands such as Ride, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis,
he has a right to snipe.
The fact is, it would be easy to hate Coldplay if it weren't for one key factor: Its
music is impossible to dislike.
"To be honest, I feel a real backlash in Britain, and I feel like America's the
only place that accepts us," Martin says by phone from Australia during a world tour
that will bring the band to Chicago for the first time on Monday. "I think we've sold
too many records, so we're no longer cool in Britain--if we ever were, to be honest. If
you're a middle-class boy with a guitar, you've got it coming, no matter how good your
Ah, yes, good songs. Driven by Martin's plaintive tenor, those lovely strumming
acoustic guitars and a tingling grand piano or two, tunes such as "Don't Panic,"
"Spies" and the band's signature hit, "Yellow," boast the sort of
indelible hooks and timeless romantic appeal shown by great pop craftsman like Burt
Bacharach, though one gets the impression that Martin would rather be compared to folks
with a little more rock credibility. Rare is the interview in which he doesn't cite his
favorite artists as Neil Young, Bob Dylan and the fabulous Flaming Lips.
"I'm totally a fan," Martin says of his Holy Trilogy. "I love anybody
who does what they do with passion, you know what I mean? I just can't really bear hearing
songs where the singer sounds like he's looking in the mirror or reading and having a cup
of tea. When I'm starting to write a song, I'm just trying to write the best song ever.
When it gets to the whole band, we've all got out parts and we're all ready to play and
I'll try to just get the right mood across, the right emotion."
The emotion certainly comes through in the achingly pretty "Yellow." Over an
odd but memorable chord progression driven home midway through by an insistent one-note
piano part, Martin tears out his heart and lovingly places it on a platter to hand to the
object of his affections. It's a song that was just made for Valentine's Day.
"Look at the stars/Look how they shine for you/Everything you do/They were all
yellow," he sings. "I came along/I wrote a song for you/And all the things you
do/And it was called `Yellow.' " (A neat trick, referencing the love song as you're
singing the love song.)
"I remember sitting in the studio, and I was just about to do a recording take for
a song called `Shiver,' " Martin says of writing the tune. "Ken [Nelson], our
co-producer, was setting the tape up, and I just was fiddling around with these funny
chords and started to sing like Neil Young, and that melody came out and it sounded
wicked. Within a couple of weeks, we were all playing on it and it sounded really
The eldest of five children reared in Devon, England, by a mom who was a teacher and a
dad who was an accountant, Martin linked up with lead guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist
Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion when they were all attending University College in
London. Released a little more than two years after the group came together,
"Parachutes" was an instant hit in the United Kingdom, debuting at No. 1,
largely on the strength of "Yellow."
The group also has been building a buzz in the States, thanks to the support of the
alternative-rock powerhouse in Los Angeles, KROQ-FM, and ABC-TV's decision to use
"Yellow" as the background music in its holiday-season network promotions.
Martin didn't seem to understand quite what a boost this TV exposure had given the band.
"Is it an advert?" he asked. "I don't think we get paid for it or
anything like that because we've always been extremely anti-advert. I don't really know
what ABC is, to be honest. [It's like the BBC, I tell him, only not as classy.] Oh, if
it's just trailing programs I don't mind that. But we'd never, ever advertise Coke or
something like that, know what I mean? Especially traveling as we do in hotels, I just get
sick of adverts. I hope it hasn't damaged the song too much."
This sensitive, middle-class university student with an acoustic guitar is nothing if
not sincere, but we expect that from this type. Judging by the accomplishments of
"Parachutes," we can also expect a lot more from Coldplay in the future.
Popmusic critic Jim DeRogatis co-hosts "Sound Opinions," the world's only
rock 'n' roll talk show, from 10 p.m. to midnight Tuesday on WXRT-FM (93.1). E-mail him at
email@example.com or visit www.jimdero.com.