Let’s get one thing clear. The superlatives, hyperbole and general gushing praise heaped on Coldplay’s debut album Parachutes were entirely justified. From a band scarcely into their 20s, it was mature, tuneful, full of classic tunes, heartfelt lyrics and superb instrumentation. It set a standard against which the band would, of course, have to live up to with every subsequent release.
So it’s fair to say that the potential for A Rush Of Blood To The Head to be one of the biggest let-downs of 2002 was as huge as their debut’s sales figures. So, is the new record the ‘difficult’ second album of myth and legend, or have Coldplay managed to build on the solid foundations laid down by Parachutes?
From the album’s opening chords on Politik, A Rush Of Blood To The Head is, promisingly, a different album to Parachutes. They could so easily have taken the Moby route to success and played similar things to their enamoured audience. True, the first single from this album, In My Place, did sound worryingly like the no-expense-spared lovechild of Trouble and Yellow. But with this album, Coldplay have developed their own sound and found the space to explore in several other, often fascinating, directions.
The main image on the album sleeve indicates a beautiful whole made up of delicate parts, which is exactly what A Rush Of Blood To The Head is. It arrives at this state for several reasons. Firstly and most obviously, Chris Martin does much more than simply sing or play piano. He expresses himself by singing and playing piano. His tenor, powerful but at the same time heartbreakingly fragile, soars above every track here and deals with the simple – The Scientist, In My Place – through to the complex – Politik and Clocks.
In the best tradition of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, the band fill in the atmospherics surrounding Martin’s huge piano and that voice, rather than all trying to dominate the music like so many of their peers. Often, Martin is left for whole verses on his own, as on The Scientist and Clocks, two of several stand-out tracks.
But this is an album of surprises too, and none more so than Green Eyes, which dispenses with reverb pedals, piano riffs and morose lyrics in favour of something that starts off all acoustic guitar and echoey vocals, but then morphs into a country-western stomp. And if you expected A Whisper to be a quiet track, you’ll be surprised at the relatively rocky feel it has.
The Radiohead comparisons aren’t quite shrugged off – the title track for one sounds remarkably like Exit Music (From A Film). But Coldplay never disappear into the experimental worlds of Kid A and Amnesiac, preferring instead to do what they want to do rather than mimic someone else in the hope of sales – and in so doing they’ve produced another highly accessible record where melody and harmony rule the roost.
Coldplay’s members might not even have aged past the quarter-century mark yet, but A Rush Of Blood To The Head shows that the band knows where it’s at, and that it intends to stay there. What’s more, they’ve released one of the most fully realised and likeable albums of the year.