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Head Case

 

Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head

Capitol, 2002

Rating: 3.7

 

 

Posted: August 29, 2002

By Laurence Station

Coldplay is a band comprised of great craftsmen. The acclaimed British quartet traffics in sturdy, life-affirming piano- and guitar-driven pop rock that comfortably occupies the expansive, if flat, middle ground of modern rock. Unlike many artists working that same stretch of terrain, Coldplay avoids sounding overly formulaic, but it lacks the wild genius to thrust its songs into new and heretofore unexplored directions. Instead, its confident and meticulously crafted melodies possess just enough kick to keep them out of the dead zone of Adult Contemporary fare. There's nothing wrong with such an approach, of course, but it's become increasingly evident that the band (lead singer and songwriter Chris Martin in particular) has its sights set on more than just a mere modern rock top ten hit (which the band successfully accomplished with the played-to-death "Yellow" from its bestselling 2000 debut Parachutes).

With A Rush of Blood to the Head, the band's eagerly anticipated sophomore effort, Martin and his fellow Coldplayers have set out to record one of those great landmark albums, something to set the group apart from such contemporaries as Doves, Oasis and Travis. And while Rush of Blood has moments of near-brilliance, its lack of either mad intellect or visceral punch -- the anything-goes spontaneity of great rock and roll -- prevent it from going over the top. Martin has the soul of a romantic, always a plus, but critically, he writes from the brain instead of the groin.

The upside to Coldplay's monumental aspirations is that Rush of Blood is a gorgeously played, near faultlessly staged work. There are moments of undeniable beauty, from the innocuous, soaring ballad "In My Place" to the timorously gorgeous piano downer "Amsterdam." Every note is in its proper, orderly, and prearranged place. One gets the sense Coldplay was on the verge of breaking down the studio walls, of throwing away the rulebook and attempting something with a little more verve and daring. Rock and roll is, if nothing else, about risk.

Unfortunately, Rush of Blood fails to rise to the occasion. It does, however, manage a few revelatory moments. "God Put A Smile Upon Your Face" and the best track, "Daylight," spotlight guitarist Jon Buckland at his most inspired, coaxing genuine passion from the instrument, complementing Martin's emotive vocals and, at points, soaring high above them. The winsome country ballad "Green Eyes" stands out for its use of spare arrangements, leaving Martin's voice to capably carry the tune. The up-tempo "Clocks" sports the freshest lyrical interplay, with winningly bizarre non sequiturs popping up, "Shoot an apple off my head / Trouble that can't be named / Tigers waiting to be tamed." It's a shame there isn't more of that on the album.

Coldplay's members may have a genre-bending work in them, but the popular success of their first album and the high praise already heaped on Rush of Blood may hamper its flowering. Perhaps a critical backlash to their third record will usher the band members toward making music on their own terms and not allowing outside pressure and opinion to dilute the urgency and power of their sound. As Martin sings on "Amsterdam:" "I know I'm dead on the surface / But I'm screaming underneath." Time will tell if the brooding singer can truly open up and let that inner rage free. As it stands, the new album comes across as more of a steady flow than a rush of blood.

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 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
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 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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