On Thursday night I heard Coldplay being interviewed on Radio 4’s arts programme Front Row. (I was making the school lunches.) The interview was conducted by John Wilson, one of the three presenters, and the two Coldplayers present - “frontman Chris Martin” (as we must know him) and drummer Will Champion.
They got the drummer along to do an interview about the music. Says it all really.
But the thing was that they acted like complete and utter twunts. From start to finish. Champion sounded like a sixth-former who thinks he’s funny. Martin made Andy Murray, the tennis player being lampooned on ITV’s Headcases as the misery phone line (”I saw a cat being run over.. it was horrible” delivered in a gloomy Scots voice), sound like a shaft of bright, helpful sunlight.
Let’s remember: this is an interview to publicise their new album, the one which has been called “the most important of the year”. By Guy Hands of EMI. Not by anyone else. Because listening to the single, it sounds like more of the boring same that they slipped into with their third album.
Now, Wilson may not be the most penetrating interviewer, but he can get people to talk when they’re prepared to talk. Compare and contrast his interview with Kate Bush, who was prepared to talk about things, even through Wilson’s puppyish enthusiasms, and engage.
Instead, it seems that Martin walked out of the interview after nine minutes.
Why? Because Wilson had the temerity to ask him some questions.
When asked about a speech he made at a music awards ceremony in 2005 where he said the band would be away “for a very long time”, Martin said: “I always say stupid things and I think Radio 4 is the place that will most remind me of that.”
Seems a reasonable enough question. But no, what does Martin want?
Presenter Wilson questioned whether the new album - full title, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends - was a morbid reflection of the band’s lyrical obsession with death.
“I wouldn’t agree with you there at all, no,” said Martin.
“I’d say you’re journalistically twisting me into saying something I don’t really mean.”
No he’s not, you self-important git. He’s asking you a question about something you said very publicly. You’re free to disagree. It’s called conversation.
A few minutes later, Martin said he was “not really enjoying this” and that he did not really like “having to talk about things”.
That’s kind of a problem if you’re publicising your album. So tempting to ask “Well, by this stage - the fourth album - Radiohead was making
OK Computer Kid A (thanks Paul Waite), Led Zeppelin made Led Zeppelin IV, Muse made Black Holes and Revelations, all pretty strong albums. (Well, you could quibble about the Muse one. Actually, point out that the Muse one is weaker than the two that preceded it.) Do you think this measures up?” (OK, that might be a touch provocative. Feel free to add stonking fourth albums in the comments!)
Or even “Did you go about the writing process in a different way? Were you trying to write a different kind of music? [Because you completely failed - CA]” But no, Wilson didn’t get the chance.
Hearing this, though, one has to think: there’s no chance I’d ever buy another Coldplay anything. I bought their first album (after sampling it on the original Napster - ah, memories) and thought Rush Of Blood to the Head was great. The next one, though, complete aural stodge. And I’m sure this one is too. But after hearing their unperformance when they should be trying to inform, if not please, their (potential) listeners, I’m certain: even if they were giving £5 notes away with every track, I wouldn’t have it in the house. Sod off and FAIL. Maybe it’ll teach you humility.
You’ll notice the interview isn’t in the Editor’s Pick at the Front Row page. Colour me unsurprised.
At the Guardian, Elizabeth Mahoney weighs in:
First, how much I’d like to see Martin - if a weird mingling of existential realms were possible - in Surallun’s boardroom, telling him instead of Front Row presenter John Wilson, that he really doesn’t like “having to talk about things”. Second, how none of us is ever going to love a fragile celebrity buckling under the pressure of nothing more than a pre-recorded interview, especially one as mild as the Front Row encounter. Third, how much I’ve always winced, listening to Martin in interviews, thanks to his lame attempts at kooky humour, and that it was a relief in some ways that he’d walked out. And fourth, more positively, what a fine show Front Row is.
And on John Wilson… Ian Shuttleworth comments on that blog post:
Back in the days of Kaleidoscope, John Wilson once mistook me for Athol Fugard. More precisely, he called Fugard “Ian” and spoke to him about my segment, and since we were the only two guests in the studio, then by implication surely I *must* have been the legendary South African playwright… I cherish that moment.
Other comments? “Phew - Coldplay are rock and roll after all,” says Mark Mulligan of Jupiter (ironically, methinks).
Oh, and do feel free to tell me about great fourth albums of our time. (Update: durr - how remiss of me to forget Queens Of The Stone Age, whose amazing Era Vulgaris is still them but expands what they do in all sorts of sonic, tonis and rhythmic areas. Josh Homme = genius in my book: listen to any of the songs and then imagine yourself sitting down with a blank sheet and coming up with any of those riffs (particularly I’m Designer). Compare and contrast with Coldplay. End of.)
Update: John Harris reviewing it on Newsnight. He really, really hates it.