Happy 15th Anniversary to Coldplay’s second studio album A Rush of Blood to the Head, originally released August 26, 2002.
When Coldplay announced their arrival with their debut LP Parachutes (2000) they got what every band starting out hopes for: a critically acclaimed and commercially loved album that saw their appeal spread from their homeland of Britain to every corner of the world. With each passing month and new single release, the band transitioned from playing small intimate clubs to midsize theatres as their popularity around the world grew on the heels of breakthrough hit “Yellow” and follow up singles “Trouble” and “Don’t Panic.” Seeing them live during their debut world tour, you got a sense of a band daring to reach for more than the venues they were caged in. A band wanting to further conquer the musical landscape and ascend to the heights of arena and stadium shows. A band with the desire to be “one of the best bands in the world.”
So it was with this destination in mind that they set about recording their follow up, A Rush Of Blood to the Head. As the title suggests, the album was recorded with a heady sense of haste as if they didn’t want the opportunity to build on their debut’s success to slip through their fingers. The result of initial recordings, however, saw them flounder under both their ambitions and expectations with the album shaping up to be a small evolution from—and in some parts a carbon copy of—the sound of Parachutes, rather than a bold step forward.
At a musical fork in the road they faced a hard decision: build on the momentum gained with a quick release or start afresh and record an album that better reflected who they wanted to be. Thankfully for us, with a release date looming, they decided to put a halt to recordings and push through the growing pains of reaching beyond their comfort zone. In the process they scuttled many of the songs already slated for release and got to work on new material.
As album opener “Politik” attests, the new material grew out of the ambition to cross the threshold of playing small to midsized venues and step into the world of arena rock, moving in on territory usually reserved for the likes of U2. With its slow build and pounding drums, “Politik” announces their intent fittingly, kicking off with an energy akin to a coda. Set to reverberate through stadiums, “Politik” encapsulates a sense of post-9/11 isolation and desperation pitted against a desire to connect and a dare to hope. It’s a more epic sounding, dramatic Coldplay being presented here. One ready for a wider stage.
In fact, it’s possible to view the entirety of A Rush of Blood to the Head as a live show. Perhaps weary of the more intimate moments of Parachutes, A Rush of Blood is Coldplay amped up. The addition of heavier sounding guitars and the greater prominence of piano not only hint at their development and surety as musicians, but also injects their songs with a broader scope.
Take “In My Place” for instance. As the first song the band recorded for A Rush of Blood, it survived the cull due to its sweeping guitar melody and pounding drums. Again it sounds like it belongs in stadiums and arenas with throngs swaying back and forth, shouting along to every jubilant “Yeah.” It just sounds…big.
If big is one way to describe the overall feel of A Rush of Blood, then surely urgent is the other. Songs like “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” shunt forth with purpose and a restless beat. And even in quieter moments like the aching of “The Scientist,” there’s still an expansiveness to the production with fuller harmonies and a wider sonic spectrum.
Urgent also sums up the tone of “Clocks.” From its hypnotic, repeating piano arpeggio set against a lush bed of synths to the insistent, propulsive beat and Chris Martin’s searching lyrics, there’s an undeniable energy to the song that continues to build with each passing bar, until the track lifts off and trails to the stratosphere. Originally set aside to be worked on for their next album, “Clocks” was resurrected after the band decided to restart the recording process. A wise move in retrospect, when you consider that it was “Clocks” that would see the band blast off and trail toward the stratosphere as well.
This sense of urgency and ambition is also carried across “Daylight” which echoes the big arena sound of U2’s “Beautiful Day” without losing their own identity in the process.
Continuing to examine the album as live show metaphor, then “Green Eyes” is the “beer song” of the set. That song that gives audience and band a chance to catch their breath and sees a slew of the crowd head to the bar. “Green Eyes” is perhaps the first point on the album that catches Coldplay looking in the rearview.
“Warning Sign” brings the energy back with a song of lament and longing, laying the blueprint that later efforts such as “Fix You” would build upon.
The final three songs of “A Whisper,” “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” and “Amsterdam” also feel like an addendum to Parachutes rather than the new chapter that the first half of A Rush of Blood offers. “A Whisper” in particular sounds like a not-too-distant cousin to Parachutes’ “Shiver,” which in itself isn’t such a bad thing. But in contrast to the rest of the album, it feels more like a pause than progression.
Upon its release in late August 2002, A Rush of Blood to the Head was lauded by critics and the public alike. It self-fulfilled the prophecy that envisaged Coldplay growing in stature and appeal, conquering a bigger world stage and picking up Grammy awards along the way. It remains Coldplay’s best-selling album to date.
And 15 years after its release, A Rush of Blood to the Head remains a vibrant, relevant, urgent album. None of its lustre has been lost over the years and it remains Coldplay’s defining moment. It has rightfully become the album that the band’s subsequent releases are measured against. For in this perfect storm of ambition and focused follow-through, Coldplay rightfully took their place as “one of the best.”