Coldplay’s first single, “Yellow”, bugged me the first time I heard it. Then I heard it (approximately) 129,000 more times, and it really, REALLY bugged me. Consequently, I pretty much wrote off the band for quite a long while.

Over time I’ve warmed to Coldplay, based on a few different things, including “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall”, “Fix You”, and Willie Nelson’s cover of “The Scientist.” So I decided to give one of their albums a chance, and fairly arbitrarily settled on this one. After a number of listens, I have a conclusion, and the conclusion is this: Coldplay is basically a bargain-price U2, if U2 was driven by piano instead of guitar, and concerned more with relationships than with the world.

Note that I mean this as neither praise nor blame, completely. I don’t think the two bands are in the same tier (which is why I say “bargain-price”), but there’s a musical comparison there. They share a penchant for the grand, the sweeping, the magnificent. They both have charismatic frontmen, a spiritual side, layered and effects-laden production. And A Rush Of Blood To The Head is not exactly Coldplay’s War, but it may be its October, which is to say that it contains several very strong tracks, and the rest of it gives the impression of a band on the verge of becoming the best version of itself.

Album art from A Rush Of Blood To The Head

Among the strong tracks: “Clocks”, which deservedly won the Record Of The Year Grammy in 2004 (two years after U2 snagged it twice in a row.) The song has a great melody, a super-hooky piano riff, and poetic lyrics that evoke desperation, confusion, and just a hint of salvation. There’s the aforementioned “The Scientist”, which the comic book geek in me has decided must be Reed Richards’ theme song. There’s the deep regret, the sudden understanding that he’s been neglectful, and most of all the painful contrast of intellect and emotion, of someone so skilled at pulling apart mental puzzles, but so poor at understanding other people. Underneath it all is a deep love and commitment, which we’re never quite sure will be enough.

“God Put A Smile Upon Your Face” pulls off a neat trick lyrically, taking advantage of a grammatical quirk of the word “put”, and contrasting it with the word “give”. “Give” changes form when shifting from the imperative mood to the simple past tense:

  • Imperative: God give me style and give me grace
  • Past tense: God gave you style and gave you grace

Now here’s “put”

  • Imperative: God put a smile upon my face
  • Past tense: God put a smile upon your face

Because “put” stays put grammatically, the lyrics create a tension around whether the narrator is pleading or simply recounting, creating a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety underscored by the repetition of “your guess is as good as mine.”

Finally, and my favorite, is “Amsterdam”. The whole album is emotional, but this song is at another level. The intro piano is reminiscent of the song “October” itself, in fact, as is the plaintive and searching vocal. But where this song truly excels is in its build from a spare and quiet beginning to a truly sublime and magical climax. Right at 3:57, when the drums kick in, the song just grows wings and takes to the skies. The lyrics take on a sense of majesty as it rises above the clouds. “You came along, and you cut me loose.”

Nothing else on the album comes close to those tracks. There’s a nice minor-key feel to “A Whisper”, a sinister sense in “A Rush Of Blood To The Head”, and a catchy tune on “In My Place.” But all of it has a sense of promise of what’s to come.