Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head

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“The Scientist” towers above everything else here. It’s the one song that doesn’t try to fit a stadium. It’s the one song that sounds like it could be on Parachutes. This is not a co-incidence. It’s also one of the few songs that Chris Martin improves, instead of dragging down.

Coldplay became a pretty big band after the release of Parachutes. Here, they decide to live up to the their popularity by sounding big. It’s a miracle they’re still around. Nothing here works in the same way “Yellow” or “Shiver” did. Nothing here, aside from “The Scientist”, tries to achieve what these songs did. Songs like “Don’t Panic” don’t really translate well to a live performance, but is this a good reason enough to wreck the beautiful melody of “In My Place”?

That’s the problem with Rush of Blood. It tries to take the basic sound of Parachutes and make it fit for a stadium. That’s a misunderstanding of both what made Parachutes great and what makes stadium music great. Music for stadium needs to be loud, catchy and also energetic. The best stadium rock has an aggressive edge. You don’t go to a Nickelback or Def Leppard show to contemplate the meaning of life. Even stadium ballads don’t work in the same way Coldplay think they do.

As for Parachutes, it was a minimalist and intimate album. These two qualities are what stadium bands try to avoid. Since Coldplay are not talented or versatile enough, they can’t merge these qualities. Instead, we have a compromise that sucks the life out of everything.

“In My Place” and “Clocks” best illustrate this. The former has a beautiful guitar melody, but the production tries to make it an anthem. Chris Martin sings like that, too, as if the song is so profound it will be played in a climatic scene. It doesn’t mesh well. “Clocks” is just bad. It’s admirable to have a pop song with an instrumental chorus, but it’s hard to get over how hard it tries to big.

Who thought that putting a lot of guitar noise behind Chris Martin is a good idea? It was the scarcity of sounds that made “Sparks” beautiful. “In My Place”, “Warning Sign” and “A Whisper” all have that guitar noise that Oasis love so much. The production team forgot that Oasis is muscular and tough, and even when they wrote ballads where they toned down the noise. “A Whisper” is especially bad. What exactly they were trying to achieve is unclear. Perhaps all that noise was a borrowed idea from Ride, but the execution is too incompetent. You don’t produce such a mess of noise when you have an example to follow.

There are some other sonic experiments, and most of them fail too. They offer more than just size, though, so they’re far more interesting and may worth a couple of listens, “Daylight” has a nice orchestral backing, but Chris Martin sings a non-existant melody and the song remains awful until the end. “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” is a more aggressive track that should’ve been played by Oasis. You can feel how uncomfortable they are in it. “Politik” is another Space Rock-influenced track, but unlike “Yellow” it also wants to be big. It’s still interesting to see Coldplay attempt these things though. These songs at least have ideas behind them, and most of them fail because Martin’s melodies are bad. If “Politik” was instrumental, it would be pretty good.

Only the title-track, “The Scientist” and “Amsterdam” are worth listening to. That’s not an exaggeration. There only three worthwhile tracks here, and two of them could fit on Parachutes. The title-track is a little different. It’s the first time they actually sound like Radiohead, not just sonically but the emotions are the same. It sees Coldplay truly departing from Parachutes, because the what they are trying to achieve is different. It doesn’t have anything special that makes it good. The chorus and the lyrics are all good, and Martin doesn’t sing with a falsetto.

It’s sad that a song as brilliant as “The Scientist” and the pretty great title-track are here. The former could have slotted in Parachutes, and the latter would have made a nice closer in X&Y. It’s a wonder how Coldplay stayed relevant when everything they do here is a career-killing move. It’s easy to see X&Y as a disappointment when you consider how hard Coldplay tried here, but the regression was improvement. I wonder how Viva La Vida will fare. It’s supposed to be even bolder.

2 scientists out of 5

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