There was a time in Coldplay’s career before Chris Martin hammed it up with Bruno Mars and Beyoncé at the Super Bowl, and when he became chums with Jay-Z, when Coldplay went for emotion, and not for hits. It was best encapsulated in “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” an album that remains their definitive statement as a band.
Coldplay and 1990s Britpop
In the late 1990’s, Coldplay emerged in the wake of “OK Computer” as part of a slew of Radiohead imitators. British bands like Travis and Muse joined Coldplay in their dark, moody, falsetto-singing brand of Britpop. However, Coldplay would come into their own on their second album, “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” which was released 15 years ago this month. To date, it remains their finest and most consistent collection of songs.
Coldplay, unlike Radiohead, went for the heart rather than the head. “Yellow,” from their debut album “Parachutes” was a big hit, but some also saw it as an appropriated sound taken from Radiohead, many identifying it specifically with the recently released “Lift” track.
Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood”
For their second album, Coldplay focused instead on U2 as a template for big-hearted anthemic soft rock, a template that still identifies the band to this day. “Parachutes” was comparably minimalist and sparse in instrumentation and production, while “A Rush of Blood” is defined by stadium sing-alongs like “Clocks” and “In My Place.”
Each of these songs are powered by the Bono-style soaring vocals of Chris Martin and Edge-equivalent tremolo phrases on guitar, piano and drums. The songs match big emotion with the production style of Phil Spector. “The Scientist,” in particular could easily fit in with the spiritual guitar quests of George Harrison’s Spector-produced, “All Things Must Pass” album.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the album and its most endearing aspect, is that the songs are simple, but the emotional impact is apparent. Melodic lines on the piano or guitar are cyclical and repetitive, pounded out with Will Champion’s drums to create a hypnotic effect and induce a physical reaction that lives up to the album’s title.
Contemporary music scene and Coldplay
Compare this with Coldplay’s recent albums, particularly with their 2008 hit single “Viva La Vida.” While undoubtedly a hit, it marked the change of Coldplay from a rock band to a pop group, crystallized by the electro-pop of 2010’s follow-up, “Mylo Xyloto.”
“Viva La Vida” also inspired a new trope for the pop music forms. Today it seems most other sing-along ballads by bands ranging from Fun’s “Some Nights” to Ed Sheeran’s “Sing,” include an unabashed “whoa-oh” finale tailor-made for stadium shows or music festivals, similar to “Viva La Vida.” It also made Coldplay singles that followed pale parodies of the original, and created a somewhat valid reason why Coldplay isn’t taken seriously by rock music fans.
In 2002, however, the band was still firmly defined as a rock band trying to make it big, even after the worldwide smash of “Yellow.” The sound of that earnestness shows on “A Rush of Blood to the Head” in the throbbing drums of the opening song “Politik” all the way through to the one-two punch of the finale, featuring the title track, that drips with heart-wrenching emotion. The last track “Amsterdam,” might be their finest underrated piano ballad.