Much mirth over Radio 2 listeners voting Coldplay’s ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ their Favourite Album Of All Time. No, I didn’t mean to type ‘OK Computer’: you read that right. Second Favourite Album Of All Time is Keane ‘Hopes and Fears’ and fifth? Dido ‘No Angel’. To this you might well say What’s Going On? Is This It? ‘Are You Experienced??? ‘Or Never Mind The Bollocks.
Writer Ian Rankin’s missive “I’m going to assume that BBC Radio 2’s choices of Keane and Coldplay for the two best albums ever recorded is part of the fun of April 1st” was retweeted almost 200 times. “Boring!” “Madness!” “Speechless!” “I think I might go and cry for a bit.” “I fucking give up!” spluttered others. One tweeter even called for a cull of Radio 2 listeners.
Now, now. What did we expect? Radio 2’s current playlist has the jazz-lite burbler Michael Bublé in the A-list, the actress who plays with dolphins (Hayden Panettiere) in the Bs as well as Blue and Mick Hucknall. Its audience was never going to vote Autechre or Aesop Rock top of the pops. Still, it’s a disgrace Keane and Dido are in the top 5, above The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Queen and Pet Shop Boys. Keane’s ‘Hopes And Fears’, you might remember, is wet-the-bed swill, fit to hear in the background when you’re having breakfast in a B&B on the coast or shopping for a card in Oliver Bonas (bar ‘Bedshaped’, a tune). Hands up: I listened to Dido’s ‘No Angel’ a lot when I was 14 in 1999 – but my favourite band at the time was Crazy Town so what does that tell you?
Believe it or not, the one redeeming factor of listgate isn’t that James Blunt’s nowhere to be seen – it’s the choice of ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ as the number one favourite. Before you start assembling a parcel filled with rotten fish and poo to send to the NME office, let me explain. Compared with their other efforts, Coldplay’s second album is a masterpiece. It’s their most experimental and daring. It’s their most indie. It’s got ‘The Scientist’. It’s definitely not the Coldplay album you’d have expected Radio 2 listeners to vote for.
From the edgy spelling of first track ‘Politik’ and its second-song-in-a-song bridge to ‘The Scientist’, which has more in common with the opening piano chords of Thom Yorke’s ‘The Eraser’ than anything else, to the arpeggiated ‘Clocks’ which run for 30 seconds without a vocal and relies pretty much entirely on that piano riff, the chorus being just “you are”, we are not in dialled-in, soft-rock territory. Witness the sweet, shuffling, cello-iced ‘Warning Sign’, the discordant verse of ‘Whisper’, a song about a psychopathic arsonist (‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’), and the bold but subtle simplicity of album closer ‘Amsterdam’. There are key changes and bridges that genuinely surprise and rejuvenate, choruses that soar with early devotion and sweat, and the tentative magic of a band that don’t know how good they are yet.
After ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ in 2002, Coldplay’s output has been mostly flatulent and overblown. Fragility, clever use of dynamics and weird middle eights do not sell out stadiums. Growing sonically more cosmic, poppier and dressing up as extras from Les Mis, with Chris Martin as Napoleon Bonaparte via Exeter, is an easier path. ‘Rush’ was the last album they wrote before becoming enormously famous the world over. They struggled to make the LP, scrapping it because they thought it was “rubbish” and releasing the finished product past deadline (causing EMI’s stock to actually fall). “It was important to progress and try to improve upon our abilities as musicians,” said Martin at the time. Second album anxiety created tension for the band, leading to threats of quitting. The band relocated to Liverpool in a bid to focus, clinging to the song ‘In My Place’ for solace and unity.
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It worked. The album’s their biggest selling to date (the eighth biggest-selling album of the 21st century in the UK) and it catapulted Coldplay into the behemoth they’ve become – and the luxury of no longer having to try very hard. ‘X&Y’ (2005) was a rehash of ‘Rush’s’ best bits, with not one track more interesting or finessed than anything on its predecessor. If you didn’t think ‘Viva La Vida’ could get even more preposterously overblown and clichéd, just listen to ‘Mylo Xyloto’, the one influenced by, erm, American graffiti. These juggernaut ballads and vast songs borrow from U2, Manic Street Preachers, Pink Floyd, instead of previous references Jeff Buckley (ahem), Radiohead and Elbow. More’s the pity. It’s as if Coldplay swallowed the brilliant first two records and regurgitated homogenised formulas for the rest.
So don’t diss Radio 2 listeners for having rubbish taste. At least they know their Coldplay, and at least bloody Emeli Sandé wasn’t number one.
Radio 2 listeners’ Top 10 albums are:
1. Coldplay ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ (2002)
2. Keane ‘Hopes and Fears’ (2004)
3. Duran Duran ‘Rio’ (1982)
4. Pink Floyd ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ (1973)
5. Dido ‘No Angel’ (1999)
6. The Rolling Stones ‘Sticky Fingers’ (1971)
7. The Pet Shop Boys ‘Actually’ (1987)
8. The Beatles ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (1967)
9. U2 ‘The Joshua Tree’ (1987)
10. Queen ‘A Night At The Opera’ (1975)