REVIEW: Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head
Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head [Capitol, 2002] (mp3s)
Three words? Paint by numbers.
As someone who discovered Parachutes before "Yellow" hit the rock-radio playlists of North America, I never had any reason to loathe Coldplay. Consequently, I saw their debut album as one of the finest records of 2000, ranking it on equal terms with the more experimental work of Radiohead and Sigur Rós. Parachutes was golden, summery gem - a stand-alone album of joy, starbursts and guitars that fell like sunlight. The songs were good, but more than that, the songs were part of a unified vision, a cresting, distilled emotion. In pieces, one could hear flaws and little annoyances... but as a whole, it was a startling, restorative work.
A Rush of Blood to the Head, unfortunately, is not. Guitars fall from the sky and land on gilt legs, melodies soar, but it's all more distanced, more considered. It's a subtle distinction perhaps, certainly a subjective one, but there's less of true Art in A Rush of Blood. Coldplay went into a studio to record a follow-up, they worked hard, and they finished with precisely what they needed to: something that shows some musical progression, that will still reassure the hearts of sensitive 16-year-old boys, and that - significantly - won't surprise anyone. "In My Place" is a pretty terrific song - guitars blossoming out of a wash of cymbals, flowering over apathetic drums - there's some fine use of strings - diving out of brocade curtains, swirling through the air - but at best it's a sophisticated retreading of "Everything's Not Lost", at worst a parroted echo of what's already been said.
Elsewhere things don't even reach that level. "God Put A Smile Upon Your Face" is just plodding variations on a pretty vocal line, "The Scientist" lets acoustic guitars brush over a rosy Semisonic song - but where's the sincerity as Chris Martin sings "Nobody said it was easy / No one ever said it would be so hard"? Where's the pain? Longing and loneliness isn't always beautiful. The guitar-strumming doesn't bring any catharsis, much as "Politik"'s superb closing bridge merely peters out. When on tour last year, Coldplay's new material hinted at a darker, genuinely broken-down aesthetic; it sounded as if Martin wanted to say something not-so-sunny. The rumours of a Coldplay/At The Drive In country-western record only confirmed the potential for a turn to something more heartbroken. Coldplay has legs. They have talent. Martin can write simple, lyrical, lovely songs. He could make something truly wondrous, truly lurching out of a wasteland, out of black-sky stormcloud. Instead, A Rush of Blood to the Head turns back to picnics and a pasty, forced sincerity. It's the sound of a band who want to please, but the honesty is gone. This album is a film-score to a movie you've already seen... as it soars, you resent it for being so obvious.