Coldplay wants you to love it. It wants to be there for you when you get dumped, or when you feel like spending a lazy day in bed. It wants its single to be your anniversary song. It even wants to educate you about fair trade in the international market, because, dammit, Coldplay are nice guys. Workout mix tapes and frat parties don’t exist in their huggable little world; they write songs for lovers and insomniacs.
All this talk of how Coldplay has matured and expanded its sound is a little overblown. A Rush of Blood to the Head is as much the musical equivalent of Tylenol PM as Parachutes was. There’s no shame in this, however insulting it might sound. I don’t think I’ve heard a more relaxing album than Parachutes; it’s a classic chill/make-out record. While Rush does have superficial differences — fuller arrangements, a few more up-tempo numbers — it ultimately carries the same calm vibe of Coldplay’s last offering. Don’t let the lead track fool you: the tense intro fades out after 20 seconds or so. Yeah, it comes back for the chorus, but at the heart of “Politik” are those melodic chord changes that put butterflies in your stomach, and of course Chris Martin’s lovesick voice.
The lead single, “In My Place,” should sell a good number of albums. It’s no “Yellow” — it had to be said — but it’s reasonably catchy and sweet enough to land a spot in a “Dawson’s Creek” love scene. Luckily, Coldplay doesn’t try to recreate that first big hit, or anything else off its debut album; having said that, Rush sounds like Coldplay’s tried really hard to be different and ended up mining the same ground. Throwing in slick production and a few extra swells doesn’t qualify as musical growth.
“Daylight” proves this point. All the string arrangements and complex instrumentation can’t save the song from its dull vocal melody or plodding rhythm. But wait for it: piano, vocals and subtle strings at the end breakdown show that the song was missing intimacy, not more guitars. Coldplay is a master at setting moods — that’s most likely where all the Pink Floyd comparisons come from — and its attempts to consciously NOT recreate Parachutes end up getting in the way of that. The songs favor the rock half of the loud-quiet dynamic this time out, but the best moments on Rush come when that intimacy seeps in. “Warning Signs” provides a perfect middle ground. It’s neither a mid-song breakdown spread over four minutes nor rock pretending to have any sort of edge. It’s just one long swoon disguised as a pop song.
I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that expectations were high for Coldplay’s sophomore album, nor do I think I’d be alone in saying that Rush doesn’t quite meet them. It’s almost unfair to judge this album on the promises they made with their debut, but when you see a group of such gifted songwriters miss the mark by even the slightest margin, you want gratification, and you want it now. If you’ve been following Coldplay since 2000, your enjoyment of this album might be tainted. Regardless, it’s still an engaging album by a good band that should become great anytime now.