Coldplay - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
Timing-wise, Coldplay came along at just the exact right moment in the classic pop canon, and went on to become one of the biggest bands of the aughts. In 2000, just as Radiohead was dealing with a crossroads of self-expression and art versus pop and mainstream sensibility (ultimately opting for the former when it released Kid A), the pensive Brit-pop band Coldplay burst onto the scene with the easily-accessible breakthrough hit single, “Yellow.” As a result, the introspective album that spawned it, Parachutes, went platinum multiple times. Parachutes would be topped by subsequent releases, and the band’s popularity would grow to epic proportions worldwide over the next decade. Coldplay’s guitar-driven stadium rock is melancholic, pristine, cinematic, politically vague and sing-song enough that it has crossed many taste barriers on tip-toe, rather than crashing through in heavy boots.
Coldplay formed in 1996 when music-minded University College of London students Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland met at orientation and immediately began hashing out plans to form a band. After bringing funk bassist Guy Berryman on board, also from a musical household, the band began writing their own compositions and performing at small clubs under the name, Starfish. The fledgling group solidified their line-up with the addition of mutli-instrumentalist Will Champion, who incidentally inherited drumming duties as a matter of necessity.
The moniker “Coldplay” didn’t originate with any of the band members, it was given to them by musician Tim Rice-Oxley. He had been performing under the name Coldplay until he came to find it too depressing, and Chris Martin and company took it. Coldplay returned the favor by offering Rice-Oxley a spot in the band as a full-time keyboardist, but he turned the opportunity down to pursue his new group, Keane.
After spending a couple of years playing the local club circuit and coming together as a band, Coldplay recorded the EP, Safety (1998), which was essentially a promotional disc that they could use to send out to labels. The demo caught the ear of Fierce Panda Records who released the Brothers and Sisters EP (1999) the following year, creating enough buzz to secure Coldplay a small slot at the 1999 Glastonbury Festival.
Upon signing with the Parlophone label shortly thereafter, Coldplay immediately got back into the studio to record a third EP, The Blue Room (1999 Parlophone). Things came to a grinding halt in the studio, however, as the band fired Champion when tensions boiled over due to substance use. The drummer would eventually rejoin the group later that year, and Coldplay firmly set a democratic band policy to set things right. They agreed on equal profit sharing and creative freedom, along with a unanimous ban of hard drug use by all members. Despite their best intentions, tumultuous studio sessions would occur again and again, nearly breaking up the band on numerous occasions.
The Blue Room brought the band to the attention of BBC Radio 1 disc jockey, Steve Lamacq, who touted the foursome and gave their single “Bigger Stronger” regular play on his radio show. Eager to take advantage of their freshly generated buzz, Parlophone rushed Coldplay into Parr St. Studios with producer Ken Norton to capitalize. They began sessions for a debut full-length, a melodic pop canvas that became Parachutes (2000 Parlophone). Upon its release in July of that year, Parachutes would end up an instant smash hit with the breakthrough single “Yellow” catapulting the band to instant fame throughout Europe and North America. The broad appeal of “Yellow” was fast and sustaining, with Martin’s genuine and wary vocals at once abrasive and uplifting. “Yellow” proved to be no one-hit wonder—the gentle midnight ballad “Trouble” was also a hit, and the rock-pop song “Shiver” solidified an album that was eventually nominated for a Mercury Music Prize that fall. Coldplay was still relatively unseasoned, and by the end of their touring obligations in 2001 the pressure was on to trump Parachutes’ worldwide success.
Fabled by the English media to be on the brink of calling it quits, A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002, Parlophone) came out and exceeded expectations—not only did the follow-up album defy the sophomore slump, it solidified Coldplay as one of the biggest band’s of the new millennium. Far more eclectic than its predecessor with a penchant for melodic keyboard driven tracks, A Rush of Blood to the Head was a massive commercial and critical success, going quadruple-platinum in the US alone. Singles like the languid pop-rocker, “In My Place,” and the dreamy stadium rock anthem, “Clocks,” dominated radio waves for the next year. The band would take away top honors at the Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Music Album, Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocal for “In My Place” and Best Record of the Year for “Clocks.”
Coldplay’s subsequent year-long international tour took them to nearly every continent, complete with memorable headlining appearances at the Glastonbury Festival and V2003. Rush of Blood to the Head also solidified Coldplay as a bona-fide stadium act, as the group performing to tens of thousands of fans at each stop on the tour. The subsequent live album, Live 2003 (2003 Capitol) was recorded at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney, Australia on July 21, 2003 and was also released as a DVD. The album was well received and demonstrated what a great live band Coldplay was, with the staple songs “Yellow” and “Clocks” highlighted and a new song—“Moses”—being introduced.
Coldplay took a break throughout 2004 to concentrate on writing material for a new album—an album that was to solidify their place as the biggest band on the planet, supplanting the likes of Radiohead and U2. Martin took advantage of the time off to wed his longtime girlfriend, the Oscar-winning American actress Gwyneth Paltrow. The couple had a child the following April, their daughter Apple Blythe Alison Martin.
The creative path of Coldplay’s third full-length, X&Y (2005 Parlophone) was littered with tumultuous creative potholes. After writing new material for nearly a year, Martin and company reconvened with producer Ken Nelson, only to scrap months of session work, fire Norton and start again with producer Danton Supple.
Almost three years in the making—the same amount of time it took U2 to record The Joshua Tree after The Unforgettable Fire—X&Y essentially picked up where Rush of the Blood to the Head left off. The album polarized many critics, some of them citing it as a natural progression while others began criticizing Coldplay for not only rehashing themselves, but emulating their idols U2 as well. The majority of X&Y pays homage to U2’s particular brand of wide-sweeping stadium rock and even contains a keyboard guest appearance by longtime U2 producer Brian Eno.
Despite lukewarm reviews and massive overexposure steadily mounting towards a public backlash, X&Y became the highest-selling album of 2005, moving a remarkable 8.5 million copies worldwide. The post-rock anthem “Speed of Sound,” the ballad “Fix You” and the hipster nod of “Talk”—which contained a Kraftwerk sample—were huge radio hits throughout the world. Coldplay embarked on a colossal tour in the album’s support, which they named the Twisted Logic Tour, and it was very successful. The tour included a headlining stop at the 2005 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Coldplay spent the majority of 2007 recording their fourth full-length album, Viva La Vida (2008 Parlophone) with producer Brian Eno. The band continued to expand its boundaries with winks rather than leaps, refining their sound and further honing their classicist pop songs. Martin’s signature piano pieces were replaced by lusher layers of instrumentation. The band took a short break to tour South America during the recording of the album, but managed to create sessions in numerous South American churches along the way, and Latin musical influences are in evidence throughout. The album went platinum multiple times, just as its previous releases had, which means Coldplay remains one of the biggest commercial successes a decade into its career.