Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 62)
There’s something special about the way Coldplay blatantly pander to us and yet we (at least, those of us who enjoy Coldplay) just accept it based on the raw strength of their songcraft. Every Coldplay song is designed to appeal to the very basic emotions of just about every breathing human being by utilizing tricks pulled from very obvious sources (How many Coldplay reviews have you read that didn’t mention Radiohead or U2?) and yet they're just so good at fitting together familiar parts that their music remains supremely pleasurable. It’s like walking in on the great Wizard of Oz, all pyrotechnics and special effects, except the man behind the curtain has no curtain. He’s clearly right there manipulating the whole scene yet you choose to ignore him because the spectacle is just too damn enjoyable.
Take A Rush of Blood to the Head
’s lead single “In My Place”. It is as unsubtle a ripoff of Ride’s “Dreams Burn Down” as you could possibly imagine. It steals everything; the unaccompanied drum intro, the instrumental first chorus, the twinkling riff, the lovelorn lyrics. Everything except for Ride’s hailstorm blasts of feedback and distortion, which have been replaced by a pillowy soft adult contemporary sheen. And yet the f*cking thing just soars, hitting a cloudbusting chorus that says nothing and means everything. “How long must you wait for it?” asks Chris Martin, “How long must you pay for it?” I still don’t know what “it” is but when the song lapses back into Jonny Buckland’s starry riff I don’t need to know either.
“In My Place” kicks off a run of songs so devastating A Rush of Blood
’s back half buckles under its weight. Following the stormy opener “Politik”, Coldplay proceed to frontload the living hell out of A Rush of Blood
, that may have not been the wisest choice for consistencies sake but does make for an epic run of tracks. “In My Place” is followed by the surprisingly spry “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face”. The typically zipper tight Coldplay loosen up a little bit as Martin injects little vocal fills into the bridge while Guy Berryman cuts loose with a groovy bass line until the whole thing shoots skyward for a typically buoyant Coldplay chorus, easing back into the verses on Buckland’s descending guitar riff.
Perhaps the most distinctive thing about the solo piano that opens “The Scientist” is the way it was recorded. You can hear the thunk of each key being depressed, an imperfect sound left alone by engineers that could have easily scrubbed each note until it beamed with false radiance. But by leaving each note accompanied by the effort necessary to make it, the song sounds completely honest before a single word has been spoken. “The Scientist” might be the best example of Coldplay’s stellar songcraft abilities. These guys really know how to pace a song, never letting anything slip too early but patiently waiting for the perfect moment to unleash key elements. Imagine if the drums entered “The Scientist” during the first chorus or if every verse was preceded by the falsetto runs Martin closes the song with. With all of its tricks out of the bag the song would become drippy and predictable, going nowhere and limping to a close. Instead, Coldplay introduce wait for the perfect moment to give each movement of the song a kick in the ass, making a piano driven ballad into something truly compelling. The whole song was constructed with the intent to make those final falsetto runs the big cathartic payoff without being obvious about it. “The Scientist” is paced so perfectly that it accomplishes that goal with devastating results. When Martin unleashes those lone wolf cries in lieu of a final chorus it feels earned.
Then there’s “Clocks”.
A common criticism leveled at Chris Martin is that his lyrics don’t mean anything. This is only true though if you divorce them from context. Give the lyrics to “Clocks” a scan and they seem built to evade any meaning at all. Tides are being swam against, apples shot off head, tigers waiting to be tamed, nothing compares, and home was where I wanted to go. And then the chorus, the most meanless bit of all, which states “You are” and never bothers to reach that third word. But then, once you mate them to that indeleble melody along with the endlessly tumbling piano atop the driving rhythm section means more than it could ever communicate through text alone. “Clocks” is about a wonder beyond words, a moment of enlightenment that feels like it could last forever while it’s there and gone before you can define it. So “You are” stays “You are” because everyone has a different adjective that completes that chorus, Coldplay are just summoning the feeling that gets you there.
Taken on its own merits, “Daylight” is a fine song with a strong sense of lift and motion, but following the rapidly escalating curve of quality that is the first 5 tracks of A Rush of Blood
, its a sharp drop off into less distinctive territory. There are still pleasures here, the country tinged “Green Eyes” and the closing “Amsterdam” ends things on an optimistic high. The title track is worth noting because it’s the only thing here that provides context for the emotions it’s gesturing at instead of just pointing at the emotions themselves, but nothing back here congeals like that opening run. Maybe this could have been avoided by moving the second half’s best track, the longtime fan favorite “Warning Signs”, to track 6, easing out of the first movement and into the second instead of dropping into it. As it is, it certainly doesn't ruin the album, but it does make the second half harder to suss out than it should be.
The line between Coldplay fan and Coldplay apologist is basically nonexistent. A Rush of Blood to the Head
made Coldplay bigger than ever and us Coldplay boosters found ourselves with more to apologize for than ever before. Parachutes
was big but A Rush of Blood
is the moment it became clear that Coldplay wasn't going anywhere. If you didn’t listen to it on your own, it was guaranteed that you would hear it on the radio, at the grocery store, or whatever Clear Channel dictated playlist you found yourself in the vicinity of. Us Coldplay fans have to apologize for Coldplay - their omnipresence, their blandness, their whinging - because everyone else has to listen to them. But for those of us that live with Coldplay like a loyal friend, their appeal goes beyond words. Coldplay simply give us melody, craft, and vagueness and we process the emotions that we can’t explain through them. Truly, they are.