Review Summary: A Rush Of Blood To The Head is about taking chances, and the band nearly succeeds in almost every aspect.
A Rush of Blood to the Head is the sophomore release by the British band Coldplay, released in August of 2002. Feeling as though they needed a different recording environment, they relocated to Liverpool to try and get inspired to write new material (most likely because of the Fab Four). The meaning of the album is about taking chances upon instinct and being impulsive.
"Politik" immediately shows a rockier side of Coldplay that makes you wonder if this is the same group that wrote "Parachutes." From the get go the track opens up with thunderous piano chords and distorted guitar. The verses are more atmospheric ("Look at Earth from outer space") and lighter in tone. It really is a great adrenaline booster and a great way to start the album. What comes next are four singles (in a row) that show how consistent the first side is.
"In My Place" is recognizable for the clean, subtle guitar riff that is featured throughout the song. Martin (like "Parachutes") is writing about failed relationships and emotional pain. "God Put a Smile on Your Face" uses an open guitar tuning and questions what awaits us after death ("Where do we go nobody knows," "Your guess is as good as mine"). The song bursts open in the chorus, but mellows back down during each verse. Martin is improving as a vocalist, as he holds out his longest note ("as good as mine") right before the coda. Eventually we get to the last verse and the singer returns with his initial question. The question remains unanswered with an unresolved chord.
"The Scientist" is similar to "In My Place" in that the singer wants closure from a relationship ("Nobody said it was easy"). Chris was listening to Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" when he came up with the chord progression on the piano. It's simple but elegant and flows like a river. By the second verse the drums enter and by the end we have a mellow jam. By this time, Chris seems to be at a loss for words.
"Clocks" surprisingly is Coldplay's only track featured in the top 500 songs of all time in Rolling Stone. "Clocks" was almost not ready in time for the album, but the band realized how good it was and finished it in time. The intro features one of the most recognizable piano riffs, where Chris is playing the same three note passages in both hands. Although the word clocks is only used once in the song, at times the music feels like a moving pendulum in both the piano and guitar. By the end of the song, Martin finishes his statement that he's been singing about since the chorus in a low pitched voice. This contrasts the high falsettos he hits during the chorus. ("You are"...."home, home, where I wanted to go"). This is the best part in the song as the bass was playing out this melody line since the beginning of the song.
Side two takes patience and multiple listens to really appreciate what Coldplay was trying to do. All four singles on this album are superb, but is the rest filler? Absolutely not, and this is where they really start taking chances with "Daylight" and "A Whisper". Also, this is where Coldplay began being compared to Muse (for whatever that's worth). The former song opens with a percussive piano, slide guitar, and erupts like a volcano. There is such dissonance in both the melody and singing that it initially turns the listener off. However, the song grows on you and although it's repetitious in the coda, ("Slowly breaking through a daylight") you realize how the singer is impatiently waiting for the sun to shine again. "A Whisper" makes reference to the song "Clocks," ("I hear the sound of the ticking of clocks") and the sound is chaotic. The sound is like dynamite exploding, with major and minor chords being played at the same time. It really is a unique song and works better than the droning on of "Daylight"
"Green Eyes" is the true obscure gem on this record. This was most likely inspired by Martin's short lived relationship with Natalie Imbruglia, (had the hit "Torn" in the 90s) who in fact had green eyes. The lyrics are poetic to a certain degree, ("Honey you are a rock upon which I stand") and yet it's the simplest song on the record. Martin uses a capo on his guitar and tunes his highest string down a whole step, (a tuning he uses often) to give the chords a more ringing, open feel. "He uses the same tuning in "Warning Sign" with the capo up one fret. This is the most emotional song on the record and by the end the singer sounds like he's going to break down and cry as he plays the piano outro ("So I crawl back into your open arms").
The last two songs go together because it's conflict and then resolution. "A Rush of Blood to the Head" sounds like it could be related to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, (the whole album was recorded around that time) with synthesizer sounds imitating sirens in between verses. ("I'm gonna buy this place and watch it fall, stand here beside me baby in the crumbling walls"). However, further listening makes you imagine a lunatic who wants to please this woman by doing things impulsively (hence "blame it all upon a rush of blood to the head").
"Amsterdam" starts off with only piano, and it sounds as though the character from the last song is considering suicide ("Come on, oh my star is fading"). Like "Warning Sign," "Amsterdam" is full of pain and disappointment. The song is either about this character being eventually freed by death or a woman re-entering his life. The song gains strength throughout each verse and the harmonies in the chorus are brilliant. Finally, the faded singer tries to break out of this slump and sings out with an intensity about his conflict, yet eventually seems to find some sort of peace ("Stuck on the edge, of this ball and chain," "And you came along and you cut me loose"). This is a great ending to this incredible album.
This album is much more diverse than their first, and with patience you will appreciate how the band broke new musical ground. They entered a transitional stage and the songs have more musical layers to them, compared to the sparseness of their first album. Every song on this album has the band trying new things and everything pretty much works. This is a damn near perfect album with the band convincing us that taking chances with good intentions is worth it. I guess time is on their side after all.
Grade: A+ *****