Blood Work

Coldplay's success hasn't gone to Chris Martin's Head

The former singer for The Red Rooster Boogie Band isn't shocked by what's happened to him and his band in the two short years since they released their debut album. No, as he's said before, it's been like a surprise birthday party. He didn't necessarily expect a party, of course, but it was his birthday, after all, so why not? Yeah, he's confident, cocky even. He knows he can write a song that makes the whole world sing, knows he's good and knows plenty of other people know. Millions of them, in fact. He only wonders why it took some of them longer to catch on, and why others still haven't.

The former singer for Fat Hamster and The Rockin' Honkies, on the other hand, is a little more taken aback by what he's been through in those same two years: the platinum plaques and critical curtsies, countless cover shoots and Q&As, adoration of fans and fellow bands alike, fame and infamy, all of it and more. He worries about dying and losing his hair and doesn't understand why anyone cares about him and his little student band, the group he formed with a few of his mates from college not that long ago. He keeps waiting for the punch line to the joke his life has become.

Both of these musicians are, technically, the same person: Chris Martin of Coldplay. (The Red Rooster Boogie Band and Fat Hamster and The Rockin' Honkies, along with Time Out and many others, were once names Martin and the band--guitarist Jon Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion--played under in their native England.) May sound strange, but it's not. Not the way Martin sees it.

Rush chairman: Coldplay's, from left, Guy Berryman, Chris Martin, Will Champion and Jon Buckland.
Rush chairman: Coldplay's, from left, Guy Berryman, Chris Martin, Will Champion and Jon Buckland.
Dark places: A Rush of Blood to the Head was finished. Then Coldplay dumped half  of it.
Dark places: A Rush of Blood to the Head was finished. Then Coldplay dumped half of it.

"I mean, every band, I think, is a mixture of enormous arrogance and terrible self-doubt," Martin explains. He's "in a dressing gown in a hotel" somewhere in Washington, D.C., a couple of days before Coldplay will perform at D.C.'s 9:30 Club, a couple of weeks before the group's second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, arrives in stores. He's speaking so softly into the phone that every word sounds like a secret. "However big or small we are, we always think that more people should like us, but we can't believe how many people do like us."

The latter number should only increase with the release of A Rush of Blood to the Head, which hits stores August 27. Just like Coldplay--and more to the point, Martin--A Rush of Blood is a mixture of enormous arrogance and tremendous self-doubt, all grand gestures and faltering feelings; think of it as watching someone's video diary blown up on an IMAX screen. And like the group's debut, 2000's Parachutes, A Rush of Blood is the kind of album that reaches through your ears and grabs hold of your heart. Martin's voice hits a blue note everyone has sung before ("The truth is," he moans on "Warning Sign," "that I miss you"), while Buckland's guitar, strong and delicate as piano wire, wipes a tear from his eyes.

Though the blueprint is the same, the building materials are different: There are echoes of the Bunnymen all over (Martin became friendly with the group's singer, Ian McCulloch, during recording), nods to New Order (Berryman spells Peter Hook admirably on "Clocks"), even a little C&W ("Green Eyes" would sound right at home on Music Row). The arrival of A Rush of Blood is a bit like the homecoming of a beauty queen who's spent the summer backpacking through Europe, a newfound worldliness making her all the more attractive. In a way, it's a scrapbook of everything Coldplay has seen and heard since the band released Parachutes two years ago. "It was all just being sucked in, you know?" Martin says, explaining the inspiration the band drew from Joy Division and The Cure, as well as newer bands such as Muse and Sparta. "And it just came out like it did."

Two years ago, everyone involved had modest goals; they figured if the album could sell 40,000 copies or so, it would be a good start, a nice number to build on when the next record was ready. A Rush of Blood will stand on an even stronger foundation: Parachutes sold 5 million copies, a million of those in America. Martin doesn't care much about the fame that has come with being The Voice and The Face for a band with a record on the charts. If pressed, he'll admit that, yeah, it's not too bad, man. He can land a date with, say, singer Natalie Imbruglia simply by telling his manager that he fancies her, and his manager will tell her manager that Chris Martin from Coldplay fancies her, and it's just that easy. Soon enough, she's on his arm backstage after Coldplay opens for U2 in Dublin. (True story.) That's a sweet deal. No denying it. But that kind of access is important to Martin for other reasons.

"One of the great things about selling some records is that we've started meeting lots of people that we really respected and admired," Martin says. "Everyone from Bono to Ian [McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen] to, you know, people like my age, Tim [Wheeler] out of Ash and At the Drive-In and PJ Harvey and all these people. And that's fucking cool. Especially when the press sometimes is giving you a hard time. It's really nice to know that people you admire don't think you're that bad. You know what I mean?"

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