'Mature' follow-up more than lives up to best-selling debut
Chris Martin has been doing a lot of thinking. While everyone else was digesting Coldplay‘s debut album, ‘Parachutes’, Martin was already asking difficult questions of both himself and his craft. He wondered whether Coldplay had the depth to improve on the concise, melancholic pop of their first set. Could they widen the picture? Did they have the wherewithal to achieve the artistic step-up that their forefathers Radiohead and U2 had made at a comparable crossroads on the long-haul towards international worship?
Of himself he simply asked, did he have more to say beyond lovelorn abandon? ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ answers all these queries with a resounding affirmative. It’s an album of outstanding natural beauty, an organic, wholesome work. On the album’s opening ‘Politik’, Martin challenges the group to “give me real, don’t give me fake”, and Coldplay manage to build something boldly beautiful from these honourable intentions. The songs are adventurous, the concept honest and brave.
It’s like discovering a precocious nipper has grown into a handsome, questing adult. Coldplay have been on a hungry voyage of discovery on the way to ‘A Rush…’, sucking up new influences – from Echo And The Bunnymen to Pink Floyd – and honing a wide-eyed philosophy to accompany this heavier sound. ‘Parachutes’ was like an earnest missive to an unrequited love, and while Martin’s still posting those love letters, he’s also weighing up mortality here. Love, life, death are the muses: a solid conceptual foundation for any record, but also a lofty place to fall on one’s arse from. Happily, Coldplay take no such tumble.
Its closest relative is Radiohead‘s ‘The Bends’, the album that secured the notion that Radiohead had more in their locker than ‘Creep’. Coldplay similarly needed to put ‘Yellow’ to bed and, just as ‘The Bends’ opened with the raging ‘Planet Telex’, ‘A Rush…’ kicks off with a discordant howl several evolutionary steps ahead of ‘Yellow’, ‘Politik’. Guitars and keyboards mash together in a two note blur, until everything suddenly drops from the mix and Martin is alone at his piano. “Look at Earth from outer space,” he sings, his voice more resonant than previously, “Everyone must find their place.” The map of the album is revealed there in that opening minute.
The search for one’s place in life dictates proceedings. On ‘Clocks’, grand possibilities are logged as an aching, repetitive piano riff spirals. The brooding title track alludes darkly to our fragility as the air bruises with scattered guitar cracks provided by Jonny Buckland’s understated, intuitive playing. The eastern-tinged psychedelia of ‘Daylight’ – or ‘The Cutter’, as elderly Bunnymen fans may prefer to call it – broods mysteriously until a terrifically uplifting chorus blows in and Martin fair quivers with joy at the power of nature. Throughout, the singer portrays himself as if in a constant state of ephinany, sometimes wondrous, sometimes grim.
Indeed, sometimes both wondrous and grim at the same time, as on ‘God Put A Smile Upon Your Face’. Over a pounding garage tattoo Martin poses a deep, mortality-based teaser (“where do we go from here?”), asserts some self-belief (“God gave me style, God gave me grace”) and then hits upon the bottom line as the song’s mood suddenly improves with another fat and glorious chorus: “Yeah, when you work it out I’m the same as you….your guess is as good as mine.” Two-fingers to critics such as Alan McGee who questioned the band’s credentials to rock, perhaps? This, Martin is saying, is me, and that’s as authentic as the next man.
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And sometimes that man is a bit soppy. So what? Nobody does soppy quite as tunefully as Chris Martin, as the stadium-sized, lighters-in-the-air, tears-down-your-partner’s-cheeks love song, ‘The Scientist’, proves. Like an Embrace super-ballad, only in tune: we may be hearing quite a lot of this in the higher echelons of the chart run-down.
Will ‘A Rush…’ turn Coldplay into global superheros? A question for neither listener nor band, but for marketing department. Coldplay did the hard part. They made a second album that’s significantly better than their first. It’s a belter. Coldplay are standing on their own eight feet. What will they ask of us next?