Recording of December 2002: A Rush of Blood to the Head
Capitol 5 40504 2 (CD). 2002. Coldplay, Ken Nelson, prods.; Mark Phythian, Ken Phythian, engs.; Rik Simpson, Jon Withnal, Ben Thackeray, Jon Bailey, Andrea Wright, asst. engs. AAD? TT: 54:14
"You did not need my urgency," sang Bruce Springsteen in "For You." In the past few years, more than a few alt-rock fans have had the same feeling about the moody, groomed mope rock coming out of the UK. We didn't need their earnestness. We needed their angst even less.
But in 2002, English bands like the Doves and, now, Coldplay have released new albums of candied pop that contain more than a few moments when music and lyrics speak more of, if not exactly joy, then some form of elation.
After the Grammy-winning success of their first album, Parachutes, and its simple but appealing single, "Yellow," it seemed a stretch to think that Coldplay could make a second album that was lyrically and, more to the point, musically leagues above their first. Yet A Rush of Blood to the Head is the sound of a band maturing, using the confidence that naturally flows from a well-received debut to add a hesitant beauty to their smoky, baleful worldview.
Musically, vocalist and frontman Chris Martin, bassist Guy Berryman, guitarist Jon Buckland, and drummer Will Champion work in primary colors. Simple, engaging, often repetitious melodic lines, led by acoustic guitars and piano and backed by an at times almost funky rhythm track mixed far forward, make Coldplay's musical confections nearly irresistible. While this description might make it sound as if the music lends itself only to slow numbers and mind-numbing ballads, Blood to the Head is mostly midtempo, and occasionally edges into jauntiness. The first track, "Politik," is a basher; its loud/soft, verse/chorus dynamic and repetitive, descending chorus of "Open up your eyes" is rudimentary but catchy.
While Blood to the Head is a meticulous studio construction, Coldplay can do these songs live, as I saw and heard at a recent New York concert. While U2 is the band's constant and obvious influence, also evident are the spaciousness of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and—I mean this in the best way—the atmosphere of ELO's Face the Music.
At the center is Chris Martin's voice. Unlike Radiohead's Thom Yorke, who can be too acidic, Martin is fuller-toned and can break into a convincing falsetto. Nick Drake is a frequent echo. But Martin has outgrown the steady diet of Drake-like drone he served up on Parachutes. He's now unafraid to dig in and sing, as in the very Bono-esque "The Scientist"—or soar, as in the album's first single, "In My Place."
Soaring is what makes the music and the lyrics of this album—still moody, still dark-edged, and at times still too precious—such a welcome surprise. While continuing to make what one UK label owner calls "music for bed-wetters," Coldplay has decided that there's a place in their music for the occasional flash of optimism. "In My Place" is bright pop in the best sense of the word. And when Martin sings "If you go, if you go, and leave me down here on my own, then I'll wait for you," it's only a windup for his full-blown declaration of love in the folky "Green Eyes."
Other sunny moments are the chorus of "Daylight," which chants "Slowly breaking through the daylight," and the psychedelically tinged, next-octave-up chorus of "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face." The moment when Martin sings "God give me style and give me grace / God put a smile upon my face" defines an album that has actual moments of lyrical hope. These sunny stretches are even more surprising considering the fact that the album was extensively revised and re-recorded after September 11, 2001.
In the end, A Rush of Blood to the Head is a new kind of white soul music. Still world-weary and still too fey for some, on their second album Coldplay proves that they have intellect, ego, and, yes, a bit of heart. What makes this disc superior to its predecessor is the realization by this once sullen quartet that what their musical ambitions need to succeed is not misery, but a little hope.—Robert Baird