Coldplay shrugs off comparisons and criticism.

Cold Shots 

Coldplay shrugs off comparisons and criticism.

For making an accomplished and ethereal debut, 2000's Parachutes, Coldplay earned a Mercury Prize nomination, pinup cachet, impressive global sales -- and bewildering comparisons to Radiohead. Not that Coldplay's music isn't analogous to Radiohead's in some significant ways. Despite a narrower, more romantic lyrical focus -- Coldplay is the beating heart to Radiohead's throbbing temple -- the younger band's sound is almost as otherworldly.

Yet singer Chris Martin's craggy tenor and guitarist Jon Buckland's echoing, delay-heavy guitar sound owe more to U2 than to any platinum-selling act of more recent vintage. Coldplay's music, like U2's, glows with the tension between vocal and guitar melodies. As with its Dublin antecedents, Coldplay's allure stems also from a precise, pulsating rhythm section, drummer Will Champion and bass player Guy Berryman. (Martin's piano lines -- the part of Coldplay's formula that most distinguishes the group from U2 and Radiohead -- often stutter alongside Champion and Berryman rather than hum with Buckland's guitar.)

But Coldplay skipped U2's mullets and Radiohead's vapor lock and went straight for the lotus-position lap of Eno-and-Lanois mysticism, nearly hitting the mark on Parachutes and thumping it soundly on 2002's fluid follow-up, A Rush of Blood to the Head. It's an album good enough to wipe away most urges for comparison, even as Coldplay continues to call other acts to mind -- acts the six-year-old band already threatens to surpass in relevance (um, U2) as well as groups it reveres but doesn't sound much like (Stone Roses).

"I used to try and get Stone Roses and Happy Mondays shows," Buckland says by telephone from Orlando, Florida, where Coldplay is about to start the first tour of what will be a long 2003. He's recalling the groups whose live performances he used to collect -- a hobby Coldplay fans are eagerly updating for the post-Napster age. "Very often, Stone Roses shows weren't that good, but sometimes they were amazing." Quiet and given to prefacing already self-deprecating statements with the phrase "to be honest," Buckland seems pained at the thought of slagging off a cherished influence, even one as erratic -- and as defunct -- as the Stone Roses.

Buckland considers the consistency of his own performances. "Always, or quite often, someone will come up to you after what you think is the best gig ever and say, 'Oh, that was good,'" he says, his already polite tone affecting the friendly detachment of faint praise. "And after a bad night, someone will tell you it was amazing."

Critics have mostly approved of Coldplay's gigs, but Buckland remains conscious of what could go wrong. "If I'm in tune and in time, that's the main thing," he says. "But it can go wrong at any time, on any song."

A man whose disdain is most frequently expressed with the word cheesy, the guitarist reserves his most modest self-assessment for Buckland the soloist. "If you can pull solos off without being cheesy," he starts, then trails off. "There's only a few people who can do it. Neil Young is one. But if I ever do anything that remotely resembles a solo, it's either really, really slow or horrible."

His bandmates think better of his playing -- right?

"We're all incredibly hard on each other," Buckland says. "Recording is a tense process. No one wins over any friends."

The band is most contentious in the studio, Buckland says. Coldplay splits its publishing royalties four ways, but its members acknowledge that Martin is the primary songwriter. The group convenes after Martin has worked out piano sketches of new songs. Buckland adds guitar melodies, and the quartet works out the arrangements. The process is not markedly different from that of other bands, though the democratic model of U2 or R.E.M. (another group Coldplay admires, not least for its politics) prevails and Martin is sometimes overruled. The singer did not want "Warning Sign," a mea culpa for a dissolved relationship, included on Rush. It's there, and it's one of the album's best songs.

Though Rush hardly spent the momentum generated by the late-blooming Parachutes (which had generated plenty of overseas attention before its release here), some reports hinted that the 9/11 attacks caused the group to rethink the songs it was working on at the time, delaying progress. Buckland says that much of Rush was written by then (Coldplay is comfortable writing on the road), but the material's evolution -- and its restrained tempos -- had little to do with international tension.

"We had to cancel a tour to America, and none of our equipment could be moved," Buckland explains. "We had to reschedule the tour, so we went in to record slightly earlier than we would have, actually. It's easier to write at home when you're concentrating, but we try to write all the time, and after the last album, we had a lot of stuff. It [9/11] certainly had an effect. London was strange at that time. But really, it's hard to write an upbeat song that's good anyway, one that's not cheesy."

The guitarist's lack of self-importance belies some reports of the band's grandiose perception of its station. But most of the recent quotes in which Martin has seemingly oversold Coldplay's rank among bands, if not its talent, have either been somewhat tongue-in-cheek or have been countered with Martin's or Buckland's humility. Last year, Martin defused one interviewer's line of questioning regarding the band's sudden wealth by praising Buckland: "When Jonny lies in bed at night ... he doesn't think, 'I'm going to buy a speedboat tomorrow.' He's thinking about guitar sounds." Rush proves Buckland isn't paying rent at a marina.

"We don't want to be the biggest coconuts on the tree -- just the hairiest," Buckland clarifies.

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