The Age FEBRUARY 27, 2009 - by Andrew Murphett


Coldplay have shown they are open to change.

For a band trading in supposedly inoffensive rock music, Coldplay have an extraordinary capacity to offend. There's the malarkey that goes with Chris Martin, the lively, idiosyncratic, tabloid-magnet frontman who is married to Gwyneth Paltrow. Then there's Coldplay's music. In a genre demanding risk and ingenuity, Coldplay have frequently been laden by rock critics and fans alike with the dreaded "safe" tag.

The band's biggest crime, according to naysayers, is they sell records. Tens of millions of them. If they are embraced by the masses who swallow Nickelback and Lady GaGa, they can't be any good then, can they?

Last year, that perception began to change slightly. By employing veteran musician and producer Brian Eno for their fourth album, Viva La Vida, Coldplay shifted their sound and delivered one of their best records, one that at least compensated for their bloated third album, X&Y.

This week they arrive in Australia for the first time in almost three years. More than a hundred shows into a world tour, they have their ninety-minute arena extravaganza down pat.

Although Viva is well represented, the set-list also embraces Coldplay's biggest hits: Clocks, Yellow, Speed Of Sound, In My Place and The Scientist, which is performed on a mini-stage, up in the nosebleeds.

"We're better at designing shows and performances," says guitarist Guy Berryman. "We try and take a big space with a lot of people and make it feel as small as possible. We have different areas in the arenas we play. And we have a few production tricks up our sleeves."

Berryman admits employing Eno (and co-producer Markus Dravs, who has worked with Arcade Fire) was an attempt to shift perceptions of the band and their overall sound.

"We wanted to have different songs and sounds," he says. "Nobody wants to hear a band churn out the same record over and over. It gets boring. We wanted to freshen it up and see where things would lead us. There was no game plan. We wanted to turn heads and we got about halfway there to doing that."

Was it difficult balancing the creative requirement for experimentation with the expectations of their enormous fan base?

"What we haven't left behind is songs and melody, which is what people like about us," he says. "It's how you dress those songs that makes a difference. We will always retain those elements, no matter what we do."

X&Y, released in 2005, was a painstakingly methodical record that endured a protracted recording process and delayed release that shrunk the share price of the band's label, EMI. Although deemed a misstep for the band, it's a misstep that sold more than ten million copies.

"We thought the third record was a little bit too long to listen to from beginning to end," says Berryman, when asked of its perceived faults.

So gratified are the band with the contrasting circumstances in making Viva La Vida, they are eager to repeat the process, and have already started work on a follow-up.

Although Berryman says "you can't be a popular band without having negative press or backlashes", there is no doubt the band has been stung.

In particular, The Case Against Coldplay, a stunningly disparaging New York Times essay written in 2005, hurt. The paper's music writer Jon Pareles called Coldplay "the most insufferable band of the decade".

Says Berryman wearily of the piece: "I can understand a lot of the reasons why people don't like our music. But I find it strange somebody would go to such a strong length to try and topple it. If you don't like it, fine. But why spend your days coming up with a plot to bring us down?"