• Aarik Danielsen

Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head”


Do you remember when the cloud of epiphany settled? You would never change the world. At least not in the manner you once held close.


A singular moment eludes me, but I know what the revelation sounds like. Once I heard Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head” as a collection of 11 seismic anthems, made for breaking and reforming ground with its vibrations.


 
Early and often without knowing, I assembled an attachment to British music from the spare parts of my Arizona upbringing.
 

Now the album comes to me as a sustained cry of the heart, a groping for something—anything—to keep. This manifest difference, a proxy for the evolution of my ideals.


Early and often without knowing, I assembled an attachment to British music from the spare parts of my Arizona upbringing. My dad’s fondness for the Beatles; New Wave songs gleaned from basic-cable John Hughes movie marathons.


As a high-schooler, Sunday liturgies ended with a certain, hour-long benediction: the Brit-rock block radiating from one of Phoenix’s few remaining independent radio stations. A thirsting desert kid, I responded to music created under a perpetual chance of rain.


First Radiohead, then Oasis. Later, the Verve, Travis and Stereophonics. Eventually Coldplay. Chris Martin washed up and into my life in frames from the “Yellow” video. Some friends rolled their eyes at the song and its naked sentimentality; my pupils widened at the sight of someone like myself.


Wearing matted hair and a rain-soaked windbreaker, Martin combed the beach, bone-damp yet warmed from inside out. Unturned by the tides, willing to inherit every gust of wind, his vowel shapes ended in smiles like poorly-kept secrets.


A traveling messenger, he proved faithful and intent on delivering his message: every heavenly body, the entire cosmos, clocked in and out for the sake of one girl.


Moving through each room of the album housing “Yellow” (2000’s “Parachutes”), confirmation bias sealed Coldplay’s Romantic refrains. We live in a beautiful world, yeah we do. Oh yeah, everything’s not lost. “Parachutes” reached two million record-buyers, souls like me who just knew earnestness would save the world.


Two years later, “A Rush of Blood to the Head” chased its forerunner’s final chords and confirmed my initial show of faith. The band which sang “For you, I’d bleed myself dry” showed a more excellent way—not only through the world of music, but all points beyond.


Moving on from the boilerplate evangelical theology and apolitical bent of my childhood religion, I wanted to believe in something. The culture, like air, around bands such as Coldplay and their elder brothers U2 offered substance wrapped in style.


ONE Campaign wristbands slid down the length of my hand, more fitting than their WWJD? counterparts. Sincere gestures toward advocacy outdid Sunday School answers that allowed no follow-up questions about the state of the world. Sin, and nothing more to say.


 
“A Rush of Blood to the Head” shows up to 2022 no less earnest than 20 years ago, but more tired of the world. Same goes for me.
 

Coldplay’s chiming guitars and levitating hooks resembled the best worship music from chapel services and conferences—later I’d learn which was the chicken, which was the egg. The sound called me toward something great. Formless, but great.


“A Rush of Blood to the Head” shows up to 2022 no less earnest than 20 years ago, but more tired of the world. Same goes for me.


More rattle than hum, opener “Politik” now sounds as much like David Bowie as Bono. The sojourner from “Yellow” orbits Earth long enough to sound a vague but needed call: “Open up your eyes.”


Ostensibly about the matters which unite and divide us, “Politik” endures as a hymn to connection. Over a plaintive, almost percussive piano ostinato, Martin cries out for what he really needs: “And give me love over, love over, love over this.”


The record’s abiding power reveals itself not in ambition, but fine detail. For every build and ocean breaker, a beautiful sigh. The release knows little purpose outside the tension.


Peals of guitar and ricochet percussion on “In My Place” hold no candle to Martin’s prayer “Please, come back and sing to me ... come on and sing it out.” And the line “I was scared, I was scared / Tired and under-prepared” belongs not to the world-beaters, but the barely surviving.


Sure, “God Put a Smile on My Face” gets by on its snaking groove, but the song’s true charm lies in Martin murmuring to himself, self-soothing after his fall from grace, somewhere around the 3:40 mark.


 
Life requires both capital-letter world-changers and those who alter present and future tenses one note at a time.
 

“The Scientist” asserts itself as a sophomore-album “Yellow,” all floating melody and heartfelt confession. And yet it sounds like two years’ worth of looking at the stars, seeing how they shine for you and then collapse upon themselves.


Twenty years ago, the album’s first half transfixed me. Now I obsess over the final two songs: the title track, which Martin said nods to Johnny Cash, and “Amsterdam.”


The former conjures wispy spirits from a bonfire, a burning away of every hindrance. The latter represents final descent after the astral voyage taken in “Politik”; its piano unlocks everything, a scream from within transposed as a gentle wish for time to act as a great physician, healing all wounds.


Life requires both capital-letter world-changers and those who alter present and future tenses one note at a time. After years of swinging and missing, I finally heard myself in “A Rush of Blood to the Head.” And truly this time.


Some realize moonshots. Most of us will change the world in the negative, by never releasing our grip on what keeps us human—no matter how hard circumstance pulls and pries. This is what Martin does for eleven songs, and I harmonize better than ever.


 
My words offer few definitive statements or grand visions anymore, instead hoping for an elemental effect. Sun on skin, water against rock until your world moves by degrees, only to weather someone else.
 

The world needs its Wendell Berrys and Jack Kerouacs, but forgive me if I’m grateful to have read them in that order; one in my late 20s, the other in my early 40s. I knew how to stay before figuring out how to hit the road, built fires from kindling and then aimed Roman candles, sought the steady people first, the mad ones a distant second.


And I believe my presence is more powerful for it. My words offer few definitive statements or grand visions anymore, instead hoping for an elemental effect. Sun on skin, water against rock until your world moves by degrees, only to weather someone else.


Maybe this is how we change the world, filling the gaps between worthy movements with a song, a sentence, a fist closed around the human element. One at a time, carrying something pure with us into every conversation, every chance at repair and reconciliation.


Coldplay eventually became the band I thought they were twenty years ago. Nobly trying to fix us all with a sky full of stars and a head full of dreams. While I prefer feeling “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” we need the Coldplay of 2022 and of 2002. The star-chasers and those who change the smallest worlds. Now I know where I fit.





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