When Coldplay issued their debut, Parachutes in 2000, many assumed they only succeeded because they filled the void left by Radiohead, who had became less radio friendly and more experimental with each new release. No doubt, Coldplay’s sound —elegant, melodic, vaguely spacey and very dramatic — bore plenty of similarity to mid-1990s Radiohead. But the group’s hooks, sharpened by frontman Chris Martin’s ability to pull heartstrings, and the their willingness to evolve their sound, gave Coldplay staying power. As a result, the band became one of the most commercially successful acts of the new millennium.
Coldplay formed at the University College of London in 1998 by guitarists Martin, a pianist from childhood and also a singer, and Jon Buckland; they were later joined by drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman. (Tim Rice-Oxley was asked to join on keyboards, but was too busy with his own group, Keane.) They played their first shows as “the Coldplay,” and in 1998 self-issued an EP, Safety. The following year, the group released the Brothers and Sisters EP on U.K. indie Fierce Panda, performed their first sessions for the BBC Radio 1 presenter Steve Lamacq, played Glastonbury, and signed to Parlophone in short order.
Though Parachutes’ lead single, “Shiver,” didn’t make much impact, the follow-up, “Yellow” (Number 48, 2001), was omnipresent on radio and one of the first power-ballad hits of the new decade. The group’s follow-up, A Rush of Blood to the Head (Number 5, 2002), consolidated Coldplay’s position as the go-to band for melodically sturdy guitar-rock weepers, as it spun off a fistful of big hits: “In My Place” (Number 17 Modern Rock, 2002); “The Scientist” (Number 18 Modern Rock, 2003); the piano-driven “Clocks” (Number 29, 2003), which won the 2004 Grammy Award for Record of the Year; and “God Put a Smile on Your Face.”
In Rush’s wake, Martin became an outspoken advocate of fair trade (he appeared with the phrase “Make Trade Fair” written on his hand on a magazine cover) and spoke in favor of John Kerry’s presidential bid. (Martin doesn’t have an American vote, but his wife, the Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow, does.) The band gives ten percent of their profits to charity.
Those profits went way up in 2005, when Coldplay released their third album, X & Y, which went straight to Number One in 22 countries, including the U.S. and U.K. Despite critical pans (including a high-profile drubbing in the New York Times), the album spun off the radio tracks “Speed of Sound” (Number Eight, 2005), “Fix You” (Number 59, 2005), “Talk” (Number 86, 2006), and “The Hardest Part” (Number 37 Adult Contemporary, 2006). Martin became a tabloid fixture thanks to his marriage, but his image, and his band’s, remained relatively down to earth.
On 2008’s Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (Number One, Top 200) Coldplay’s sound became more overtly experimental as the band worked with boundary-pushing producers like Brian Eno, who helped bring the band win significant critical acclaim. The album’s first single, “Violet Hill,” hit Number Eight, while the follow-up, “Viva La Vida,” hit Number One and won Song of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards. After the release of Viva La Vida, Coldplay embarked on tours in North America, Latin America, and Europe. In December, 2009, they convened in a North London church to focus on a new album, again working with Brian Eno.