So back when I was probably 17-18 I started buying unauthorized biographies of the British band Coldplay.
Yes I am aware of how ridiculous that sounds. But as a young(er) man, I was fascinated by the four band mates from differing parts of the UK.
Absent interviewing them myself, I really wanted to try and understand where the songs came from, what the background of the music was etc etc.
Each of the three authors below approached their subjects from a different angle, and their own bias’ and prejudices shine through.
This is the weakest of the three biographies. Written around the time of the A Rush of Blood to the Head tour, Spivack claims his thesis is to discover, “what has made Coldplay the world’s most vital, urgent, and pivotal rock band in this new century”. If only Spivack had answered his own question. Instead, readers are treated to an un-engaging narrative that is only saved by the number of colourful and rare photos of the band backstage and in the studio that real fans would adore.
A much better written, if manic, book is Martin Roach’s 2003 work that mainly deals with how he views Coldplay redefined the British musical landscape. At a time when bands like Radiohead had shunned fame and listeners were being tortured to Linkin Park, Coldplay’s emergence was an unexpected revelation. If the band were a gospel, Roach views them as the proverbial Matthew; more concerned about lineage and expectations of fulfilling the ‘law’ of British rock and roll than the subjects themselves. To Roach, it was more important about what Coldplay represented than what they actually were. Likely the most intellectual of the three, Roach’s wandering narrative about the state of popular music is a good read in general, but falls short of delivering any insight into the band that had not been published to death anywhere else.
I love this book. Filled with little asides that provide great background into the history of songs on both Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head, O’Brien gets to the heart about what makes Coldplay such an interesting band to follow. My personal favourite detail is how the band decided the brilliant track ‘Warning Sign’ should go on the album.
During their creative brainstorming sessions the other band members declared their enthusiasm for recording ‘Warning Sign’. Chris didn’t approve of the way this song had turned out. As far as Chris was concerned, it was old news, inspired by his breakup with Lily Sobhani. The others argued against him and ultimately prevailed. (p. 104)
Little stories littered throughout a book that focuses more on text than any exclusive behind-the-scene photos, O’Brien found a way to come to terms with a group that from the start valued its musical integrity over everything else, and won out in the end.