Touted as one of 2008's hottest commodities, Coldplay is playing it cool.
"On the last record, we got caught up in things we didn't enjoy, like people talking about share prices and investors," singer Chris Martin says. "We got very big but felt a little lost.
"This time, we were hungry to disassociate ourselves from anything other than improving someone's holiday or bath time."
On Tuesday, the British quartet releases fourth album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends amid huge marketplace expectations, especially from label EMI. The company is desperate for a blockbuster after its takeover last year by a private equity group resulted in layoffs and financial strain.
Arguably the heir apparent to U2, the band has sold 30 million albums since 2000 debut Parachutes. Their last, 2005's X&Y, held Billboard's No. 1 spot for three weeks straight and eventually sold 10 million copies worldwide, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Today, Coldplay is turning a cold shoulder to revenue pressures.
"I want people to keep their jobs," Martin says, "but our primary consideration has to be the 16-year-olds who are going to listen to it and not the shareholders who are never going to listen to it."
Rejecting hard-sell tactics, Coldplay enticed fans with freebies: the single Violet Hill at Coldplay.com (2 million downloads in a week), streaming the full album at iheartmusic.com and concerts Monday in London, Tuesday in Barcelona and June 23 in New York.
Tickets are selling fast for the Viva La Vida tour, which was set to launch this weekend, but has been pushed back to July 14 because of production delays. "We're still asking people to buy our record, but we're putting as much free stuff out there as possible," Martin says. "It's like the shopping channel that gives you a trampoline for buying a running machine. We wanted to say thanks."
Viva has racked up the tallest pre-release sales in iTunes history, and it's outselling the top 40 combined at online retailer Play.com. The title track, Coldplay's hottest single ever, is the No. 1 download with 768,000 sold to date. Yet with CD sales in a tailspin, the band is unlikely to match past peaks.
"Jack Johnson had his best career week this year, and Mariah Carey had her best opening, so it's not impossible to show growth in 2008," says Geoff Mayfield, Billboard's director of charts. "But it's foolhardy to predict Coldplay will have its biggest week ever."
The challenge is creative, not commercial, counters Martin, insisting, "We were and still are extremely fired up. We're still trying to prove why we got the job in the first place."