Britain's top band is almost famous

In the recent film "Almost Famous," a music writer pitches a piece to a Rolling Stone magazine editor about a new band. "It's going to be a think piece about a mid-level band grappling with their limitations in the harsh glare of success," the writer says.

A similar piece could be written about the prodigious rise of British rock band Coldplay, except that their limitations don't include a shortage of musical talent.

Rather it's dealing with the tug of media exposure after being labeled "the next big thing." It's a tag that immediately sets up expectations the band may be unable - or reluctant - to fulfill.

Coldplay's first album, "Parachutes" (Nettwerk), released in November, has sold 2 million copies worldwide and has floated to No. 51 in America's Billboard charts. The single "Yellow" has received continuous airplay on pop and modern-rock radio stations.

The band's "It" status has landed them a "Saturday Night Live" guest spot April 7, while the ABC network has played the band's music on promo spots.

"We're not exactly No. 1 yet, you know," sighs guitarist Jon Buckland in a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles, as he reflects on the intense focus of the American media. "We're hardly household names. Not even at our own gigs. Actually, no one even recognized me when I walked around outside yesterday."

That may soon change. Top execs at Coldplay's record company, Capitol, shouldn't be surprised if their marketing department demands a pay raise after scoring features on the band in magazines like Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and Time.

One wonders if the attention can be sustained. A fickle, personality-driven media adores a larger-than-life quotemeister like U2's Bono or a complex enigma like Radiohead's Thom Yorke - something Coldplay lacks. These lads are more likely to watch the televisions in their hotel rooms than they are to toss them out the windows, and though lead singer Chris Martin's low-key, boy-next-door charm has elevated him to being the band's key spokesperson, his only notoriety is that he doesn't drink, smoke, or swear.

"Our music's much better than we are," says Buckland, as a reminder that it was an unfussy tune called "Yellow" (endearingly pronounced "yeallouw" by singer Martin) that got them noticed.

"I met Chris, and we started playing guitar together. We just started writing songs right away, and they were pretty much the best things we'd ever done," says Jon Buckland, explaining how the band, which also includes bass player Guy Chamberlain and drummer Will Champion, met while attending London's University College. Champion joined the band by accident.

"We were actually going to get Will's flatmate to play drums because he was a really good drummer and Will didn't really play. But his flatmate didn't turn up, and we needed someone to play on the demo, so we got Will."

The album's 10 tracks blend crystal-clear guitar lines with Martin's lovely keening falsetto, which hovers somewhere between jubilation and melancholy. "Good melodies. People have always liked that," Buckland says.

Dozens of writers have compared Coldplay to Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, and Pink Floyd.

"It's just what happens," Buckland says of the inevitable hype and labeling. "I don't think they're entirely accurate, but they're not entirely inaccurate either. It's not a big deal for us."

Now, other British bands are being called "the new Coldplay."

"Yeah, that's really strange," Buckland says, adding that back home, some of the media have contributed to a small backlash. "The bigger you get, the more people who don't like you come out and say they don't like you."

It remains to be seen whether Coldplay can break the Top 10 in the US. That's almost expected of them - an unfortunate byproduct of media hype - though it's arguably an irrelevant and artificial barometer of success or failure.

Buckland is relaxed about the future. "It's just going to happen, hopefully," he says. "That's what we're planning - planning on it just kind of happening."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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