Coldplay arrived in 2000 with the smash power ballad "Yellow," an instant classic of trembling guitar ripples, ridiculous stargazing lyrics, anthemic choruses and the forlorn vocals of Chris Martin. The guy's voice sounded like a puppy kicked down a flight of stairs, one step at a time, and then kicked back up the flight of stairs. But even as he bravely flirted with outright dippiness ("Look at the stars/Look how they shine for you" — egads), his heartfelt yodel won you over. Like similar-minded U.K. bands such as Travis and Starsailor, Coldplay took the basic sound of Radiohead and pumped it full of emotion, using those loud-quiet-loud guitar textures to soothe and console you, rather than to alienate your jangled nerves. Sweet boys, really. Martin isn't your typical rock star, either — he proudly admits he doesn't drink (dislikes the taste) and didn't start having sex until after he'd written his first hit. But then, "Yellow" isn't a very rock & roll color, is it? Sheila E. had a great song called "Yellow," but aside from a submarine here or an electrical banana there, rockers usually think it's too boring to even sing about. Coldplay might be out of step with rock orthodoxy, but their sheer conviction has made them a global sensation.
Coldplay's debut, Parachutes, was perhaps too mellow for its own good, too sedate in its good-vibes homogeneity to stand up to repeated listens. But A Rush of Blood to the Head is a nervier, edgier, thoroughly surprising album. The guitars are still full of Pink Floyd, but the band has figured out how to let loose and rock out, something Floyd never learned. The same influences are here: the Radiohead of The Bends and OK Computer, the U2 of October and War, the Smiths of The Queen Is Dead. But where Parachutes was the clumsy diary of a high-strung kid, A Rush of Blood sounds more like a band with the confidence to test its own limits. Jonny Buckland comes into his own as a guitar hero, while Martin has grown gratifyingly adult in his sobs and growls. He's still got plenty of angst to vent, though, wailing about death ("Amsterdam"), war ("A Rush of Blood to the Head") and lost love (damn near everything).
"God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" is the slinkiest and best thing Coldplay have ever done — while the acoustic-guitar figure may be a little too transparently based on Roxy Music's "Out of the Blue," the band whips it into a head-spinning trip of aggressively strummed paranoid folk rock. The folkie shuffle "Green Eyes" sounds like hippie Christian singalong time, but it works, while the fantastic piano ballad "The Scientist" is an overt sequel to "Yellow" ("Let's go back to the star") with a cataclysmic falsetto finale that could raise every hair on the back of your neck. Buckland shines in excellent psychedelic rockers such as "A Whisper," "Clocks" and "Daylight." When you're not in the mood, Coldplay are still too mellow: In the soggier songs, such as the unfortunate first single, "In My Place," the choked vocals can make Coldplay sound like nothing more than a trans-Atlantic breed of Counting Crow. But with A Rush of Blood, Coldplay do more than fulfill the promise of "Yellow" — they surpass everything they've done up to this point, making first-rate guitar rock with some real emotional protein on its bones.