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Would you buy a car from Chris Martin? ...


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— by James Montgomery, with reporting by John Norris

There are lights of all shapes and sizes and colors in Times Square, neon and fluorescent and hi-def digital, all constantly running in horizontal and vertical trajectories, all urgently blooming and disappearing — and all trying to sell you something. The whole effect is dizzying and loud and a bit surreal, kind of like being inside the world's largest pinball machine. There are many adjectives that could be used to describe the everyday scene here; subtle is not one of them.

And yet, sitting in a chair overlooking all this, dressed in black cargo pants and a black button-up (the same outfit he would wear on "Saturday Night Live" three days later), is probably the most subtle frontman working today: Coldplay's Chris Martin, and he looks strangely at ease in these surroundings. Actually, he looks largely catatonic — blue eyes glazed over, four days' worth of stubble on his face, lips creased in an angular, weary smile — which belies his true purpose for being here: Chris Martin has something to say.

Check out this revealing interview with the #1 band in America. Watch "MTV News RAW: Coldplay" -- exclusive video, and only on OVERDRIVE.

In less than three weeks, Martin and the rest of Coldplay — guitarist Jon Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion — will release X&Y, their third album of bombastic, sensitive-guy rock. Today is a press day, which means Martin will answer questions about the album, smile his way through inquiries into his personal life and raise his left hand innumerable times. On the back of that hand, he's drawn two black horizontal lines and accentuated them with rings of blue and red tape on his index and middle fingers. It's the iconography synonymous with Make Trade Fair, the international organization aimed at ending Third World debt through equal trade, which Martin has made his cause celeb.

Today Martin isn't focused on selling records (those will sell themselves); he's pitching poverty relief. And it's no wonder he appears somewhat at home amidst all these light-up adverts: With his quiet mannerisms, good looks and superhuman politeness, Chris Martin is a killer salesman.

"Anyone who criticizes me for talking about fair trade is really a few pebbles short of a beach, because everybody should care about it, just like everyone should care about the environment: because we all live here," he says with a smile.

Would you buy a car from this man? If you're one of the 17 million people around the world who've bought his records, then the answer is probably "yes." It's not so much Martin's pitch as it is his "kill 'em with kindness" approach. It's certainly worked with Coldplay's music (which is nothing if not nice), and for the past two years — ever since Coldplay became a global sensation, ever since he married actress Gwyneth Paltrow, ever since he named his daughter Apple — Martin has been working to apply that method to his dual roles of superstar and international goodwill ambassador. Martin is no longer just a frontman. He's the 21st century version of Young Bono: a firebrand speaking for those who have no voice, a musician seeking to right generations of wrongs, a mouthpiece, a pistol, a firecracker, a megaphone.

Except, unlike the upstart Bono of 25 years ago, Chris Martin isn't any of those things. You won't catch him writing protest songs or waving giant white flags during shows. His brand of activism seems limited to his left hand (and often his T-shirt). He's not trying to ruffle feathers or rage against the machine. Basically, Martin is trying to change the world without pissing off a soul. And it just might work.

"I can understand skeptics who say, 'Why is a singer talking about this?' But we talk about fair trade because we've seen how it can affect people," Martin says. "If we worked in a library and we'd seen it, we'd be talking about it too."

And when you think about it, when was the last time you heard Bono compare himself to a librarian? It's just something frontmen/humanitarians don't do. It just doesn't seem to add up. But then, neither does Chris Martin. And neither do Coldplay, for that matter.


NEXT: Chris Martin gets angry — no, really ...
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Photo: Capitol

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