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Band of the Year: Coldplay

On a cloudless October afternoon, Chris Martin stands on theSkydeck of Chicago’s Sears Tower, the tallest building inNorth America, eyeing the 1,450-foot drop to the street. “Ilove things like this,” he exclaims. Then he’s off,peeling away from the window and pinballing across theblue-and-yellow observation area. Martin is often photographedlooking serious and morose, but this exuberant display is standardfor the 26-year-old Coldplay frontman. His energy, tightly packedinto a rangy 6’1″ frame, is electric. He doesn’twalk — he bounds.

Ona cloudless October afternoon, Chris Martin stands on the Skydeck ofChicago’s Sears Tower, the tallest building in North America, eyeingthe 1,450-foot drop to the street. “I love things like this,” heexclaims. Then he’s off, peeling away from the window and pinballingacross the blue-and-yellow observation area. Martin is oftenphotographed looking serious and morose, but this exuberant display isstandard for the 26-year-old Coldplay frontman. His energy, tightlypacked into a rangy 6’1″ frame, is electric. He doesn’t walk — he bounds.

Ina rare moment of stillness, Martin stares out another windowoverlooking the John Hancock Tower and Wrigley Field and notices theMuzak-like version of “Moon River” wafting over the P.A. system. “Thismusic is doing my head in,” he moans. “I hate it when they take classicsongs and ruin them. The people who work here must go bananas.” Helaughs. “That’s probably how our road crew feels.”

Today is election day in California, and ArnoldSchwarzenegger’s orange face is all over the news. But this beingsports-crazed Chicago, reports that the Terminator allegedly groped 15women are bumped off the front page in favor of the Cubs’ unlikelyplayoff victory over the Atlanta Braves. “The mood here is great rightnow,” Martin says. “Chicago is the best place in the world.” He andguitarist Jonny Buckland, also 26, are in town for a few weeks layingdown tracks for Coldplay’s third album. Though it isn’t due until fall2004 (fans will have to settle for a just-released live DVD/CD package,which includes one new song, “Moses,” and two unreleased rarities),Martin and Buckland already have 54 songs (yes, 54; Martin writes every day). And, after spending 15 months on the road promoting their second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, they’re eager to record.

Martin is quite pleased that Spin has named ColdplayBand of the Year. “Thanks very much,” he tells me. Pause. “So is thisgoing to be a story about how you’ve named us Band of the Year but takeit back because we don’t really deserve it?”

Actually, no. Since releasing A Rush of Blood inAugust 2002, the band — Martin, Buckland, drummer Will Champion, 25,and bassist Guy Berryman, 25 — have had a career-galvanizing yearduring which nearly every goal they set was exceeded. The album hassold 9 million copies worldwide — 3 million in the U.S. alone. As thelukewarm success of fellow Brits Blur, Travis, and Stereophonics hasproved, breaking America can be a struggle. To ensure that theywouldn’t go the way of their compatriots, Coldplay crisscrossed thecontinent six times from May 2002 to August 2003, performing 155 shows– in small towns like Bend, Oregon — and glad-handing endlessly. “Wewhored ourselves around,” Martin admits. But the prostitution paid off.By the time they played sold-out shows at the prestigious HollywoodBowl and Madison Square Garden in June 2003, Coldplay had transformedthemselves from Radiohead obsessives into a critically respected,celebrity-props-receiving mainstream sensation.

A Rush of Blood, which debuted on the Billboardalbum chart at No. 5, hovered in or near the top 30 for close to ayear. Its three hit singles — the plaintive ballad “In My Place,” thebittersweet breakup weepie “The Scientist,” and the dreamy piano-drivenrocker “Clocks” — have been inescapable: background music to weekendshopping at upscale boutiques and Pottery Barns everywhere. “Clocks”alone has popped up on The Sopranos, E.R., and Third Watch. R&B singer Brandy even wrote a song about Coldplay for her upcoming album. All the exposure helped A Rush of Bloodhandily outsell albums by established superstars like Madonna andJennifer Lopez. Along the way, the band picked up two Grammys and threeMTV Video Music Awards — including Best Group Video for “TheScientist,” which they performed live, after being introduced by JustinTimberlake as “the greatest band in the world.”

“We were shit [on the VMAs],” Martin says. “We figured,’This’ll be easy.’ Then I looked out at the crowd, and Eminem waslooking at me, and I thought, ‘God, he’s going to hate this.’ I lostall my confidence.”

Coldplay have achieved a level of fame the band membersonly could dream of when they got together in 1996, as students atUniversity College London. Martin and Buckland both worked as janitorsin the residence halls to support themselves. (“I’d never experiencedanything like it,” says Buckland, “the smell of adolescence.”) In 1999,they released their first EP, finished college, signed to Parlophone,and watched their debut, Parachutes, soar to the top of theU.K. charts in July 2000. The album, which spawned the unapologeticallyromantic guitar anthem “Yellow,” has since sold more than 1.8 millionin the U.S.

But it wasn’t until after A Rush of Blood was released and Martin began dating Gwyneth Paltrow (he’s recording in Chicago because the actress is here filming the movie Proof)that Coldplay became a band your little sister, your mom, and even yourgrandma had heard. Suddenly, they were being name-checked byTimberlake, Renee Zellweger, Jake Gyllenhaal, even P. Diddy. In shortorder, the British tabloids staked out Martin’s London flat and werewriting about his and Paltrow’s alleged engagement and impendingwedding at Steven Spielberg’s Hamptons spread. She was compared to YokoOno after (false) rumors were spread that she would sing on Coldplay’snext album, that she doesn’t let Martin out of the house without ahomemade macrobiotic lunch, and that she wanted him to take a year offto start a family. “My favorite,” says drummer Champion, “was Gwynethbanning us from drinking and smoking on our tour bus.”

Martin says he finds the rumors funny “as long they’reharmless, but I really don’t read this stuff, because it’s irrelevant,indulgent, boring, and unimportant.” Then, he adds, “Didn’t you readanything nice [about us]?” Paltrow may be accustomed to magazinespublishing photos of her scurrying down the street with a yoga mat, butthe attention was new to Martin. Which explains why he exploded when apaparazzo snapped him surfing in Byron Bay, Australia. Martinreportedly demanded that the photographer erase the digital shots, thenbashed his car’s windshield with a rock and tried to let the air out ofhis tires.

“If someone was following you around all day, eventuallyyou’d be like, ‘Please, will you fuck off and get on with your ownlife?'” Martin says. “It is great to let out aggression.Everyone wants to smash up a car. If I’d known how much trouble thattiny bit would get me in, I would’ve done more,” he says grinning.(Martin paid Aus$2,000 in damages, but the charge of “malicious damage”had not been dropped at press time.)

“At least no one is recognizing me up here,” Martin says ashe surveys the tourists milling around the Skydeck. As if on cue, ayoung, spiky-haired guy in an orange sweatshirt approaches. “Are youColdplay?” he asks. “Oh, man, I’m a huge fan,” he gushes. “Mygirlfriend and I had our first kiss to ‘Yellow.'”

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