Review Summary: Can be divided into two sides: the amazing first half, and the coma-inducing second half.
Coldplay is a band that everyone knows these days. Even back in 2003, you had to have lived under a rock if you missed the year's hit single, the piano-motif-driven clinging sounds of their biggest megahit to date, Clocks. Combining a riveting melody with Thom Yorke-esque vocals (and a big emphasis on the ability to use falsetto), this lead single drove forth the record sales of what has been Coldplay's most acclaimed album to date: A Rush of Blood to the Head.
Five years and one album and many singles, Live Aid appearances, and more of such things, have passed, yet Coldplay still dominate the radio airwaves with their tunes. And with time running out before the prospected (!) release of their new album, it's time to face the challenge and bring out the old albums, for (popular) artists will always be judged by the fan favourite in their catalogue. But in this case, the fan favourite seems to be a little bit of a problematic record.
There's no denying this record's initial momentum. The first three tracks all get a gold star, and The Scientist earns three for having the best simple piano motif in years, its lush balladry accessible to anyone and everyone without overwraught emotion or unduly sap. Politik, the opener, is a propelling starter, jumping out of the gates with an uptempo drum beat and guitar lines that make The Edge blush. The fifth track is Clocks, the ultimate hit single, and that too serves its purpose, though its continuous rotation and limited replay value may somewhat decrease a fan's appetite for it.
But from there, the *** starts to hit the fan. After Clocks, the album takes a nosedive into the seas of mediocrity. Daylight features the same sort of guitar lines and piano tinkling we've heard in the first three songs, but it doesn't have a chorus like In My Place nor an immediate driving hook like God Put A Smile Upon Your Face. Every other song (apart from the acoustic Green Eyes) follows the same pattern of rehashed 4/4 drum beats, short, hooky guitar lines and Chris Martin's piano tinkling around it to serve its usual melodic purpose. But all these songs suffer from the same problem as Daylight: their hooks are not as big and their choruses don't rule as much. There is nothing that isn't done better on the first five tracks, and in fact, there's nothing at all bothering with: it's like an EP with B-sides.
The only deviation is the acoustic Green Eyes. It's a sort of thing Coldplay haven't tackled often, and that too, seems to be relegated to the realm of boredom. It's not that the song flat out sucks. It's just that it never goes anywhere. The strummed guitars rumble around and around for 3 minutes, but there is no progression that ever gets the song up and running; and for a band known for its melodic pop hooks, that is really the disappointment that is involved in the second half. It's this sort of half-baked songwriting that really drags the album down a notch: why is a band that is capable of "The Scientist", probably the best pop song released this decade, also so unconcerned with ending the album on such a bland note?
In the end, A Rush of Blood to the Head will probably still be remembered as Coldplay's peak musically; this is probably still their album with the best hit singles and the greatest continuity between tracks. And if you look at the first five songs, you can honestly say they know how to write a song, milk it, and make it palatable for everyone and just plain easy to listen to. But consistency was never pop music's strong suit, and for all their ability to write some good catchy tunes, they still haven't yet churned out an album that is worth sitting through its entire timespan. Only time will tell if Coldplay ever reach that point, or if, like so many other bands in the same vein before them, they will be relegated to that part of the music industry that has consistently good singles, but has never pulled off a full album with them. And let's face it: for all the listeners so hooked on Clocks and yearning for more of the same, that's just a real shame.