Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head

by Terence Leung

With the alternative-tortured soul-rock music market in the UK well covered by Mercury Cold Prize pets Travis, Beth Orton, Starsailor, Elbow, David Gray, Turin Brakes and company; certain conventions can be placed on what Jack Black’s character Barry from High Fidelity called “Old Sad Bastard Music.”

There are rules that are very stringent and deviants will be punished with the “critic favorite, low album sales, look at Yo La Tengo!” plague:

  1. Falsetto crooning is like an aggregate supply curve: it is forever upward sloping… the more, the merrier.
  2. Ingredients include guitar (one acoustic and one electric), piano, understated drums, barely noticeable bassline and trendy knob-twidler in the booth, preferably with the name Nigel Godrich.
  3. Lead singer has the irrepressible urge to be understood and respected. All mannerisms in media and performance are to reflect as such.
  4. Life lost and love(s) lost are to be considered appropriate subject material.
  5. Two words as a maximum on a group name; one word is preferred.

Immediately, it is clear at first that Coldplay does not break the mould of these conventions. With their debut LP, Parachutes and their whored-out breakout single, Yellow, Coldplay never professed at any point to be unconventional. Parachutes’ bread & butter was derived from their quiet ability to follow those above said rules to the tee, albeit not purposely, but from its ability to seem like it was created with a large dash of sincerity and genuine attitude. Otherwise, how else could frontman Chris Martin have gotten away singing “Look at the stars / Look how they shine for you / And everything you do” without the audience giving a pity-blush? It is because Coldplay are not necessarily convention-followers; it is because the conventions are simply byproducts from the image they innocuously produce.

As a person who lately seems to equate “different” as “good”, I am stunned as to the effect A Rush of Blood to the Head has on me. Melodically, lyrically and musically, ‘A Rush’ is a significantly stronger album than its predecessor. Considering the kudos that rained upon Parachutes and the 5 million in worldwide record sales that followed; it is very surprising and difficult for any band to produce something that can simply be described as better.

Opening with a machine-gun volley of electric guitars and piano, “Politik” takes equal parts from The Wall-era of Pink Floyd, The Bends-era of Radiohead and culminates in the final minute with the words “And open up your eyes / Open up your eyes / Open up your eyes / Just Open up your eyes / But give me love over, love over, love over this”. At this point, I become saucer-eyed. I am sold.

Lead single “In My Place” which crops up right afterwards reeking of “Yellow”, somehow manages to flourish despite its predictability. However, it is simple, heartfelt and unapologetically cheesy enough for the audience to accept. Fortunately, the other nine songs that follow offer more depth and discovery than the single.

Instead of blaring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” from John Cusack’s massive boombox in the customary “aw… that’s so sweet and heartbreaking” scene of Say Anything, the balladering of “The Scientist” becomes more apt for a 2002 version of Cameron Crowe’s story of life lost and love lost.

“Clocks”, “Daylight”, “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” and “A Whisper” echo a familiarity to pre-Achtung Baby U2. The songs orbit around a central musical theme, whether it is the swirling, circular piano riff of “Clocks”, the bluesy driven guitar of “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face”, the meandering slide-guitar of “Daylight” or the guitar crashing of “A Whisper”. It truly is depressing music you can run to, a convention that could be considered fresh to the “Old Sad Bastard Music” arena.

Despite the solid foundations ‘A Rush…’s songs are based on, the album only has the binary number-esque capacity to switch between tear-jerking ballads (i.e. from “Warning Sign”: “When the truth is / I miss you / Yeah the truth is / I miss you”) and guitar mashing tracks (i.e. from “A Whisper”: I only wish I could phonetically emulate the sound of “guitar mashing” for you, but alas, I cannot). It is the only area that the album suffers. All things considered however, as a second album, Coldplay has much potential to improve and add to their repertoire of song styles.

Ultimately, ‘A Rush…’ manages to succeed in branching out from the rigid rules of this genre. Instead of being dull, derivative and pedantic, the album comes across as heartwarming/breaking, exciting and sincere. It’s a nice surprise, especially when it was never expected. Parallels have been made regarding the similar career paths of Coldplay and Radiohead. If “Yellow” is to Pablo Honey’s “Creep” and ‘A Rush…’ is to The Bends, then the next Coldplay album is to…

I am saucer eyed indeed…

  • Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head
  • by Terence Leung
  • Published on October 1st, 2002
A Rush of Blood to the Head
Capitol Records
August 27th, 2002

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