New Shapes and Colors


The charm and potential doom of Coldplay is singer Chris Martin’s great, sorry voice that’s always trying to embrace its own nature. He has plain eyes and Eskimo-carved cheekbones. “God gave me style and gave me grace,” he sings now. He moans. He smiles. He continues in a tradition known for its conventionality and its easy sappiness. At times Coldplay are in the strain of Travis, but they sound more like Beck’s acoustic side, and they once threatened to be Oasis. There’s something to be said about a band that does this and manages to appeal to everyone except people who hear way too many records.

After a solid thrash of drum stomps and full-string mashes that you just don’t expect from these softy stars comes the opening line to their new album: “Look at Earth from outer space.” Big stated noise, then quiet. Sublime: This is what these elusive creatures from England do. Chris Martin’s natural falsetto, lately less relied on, pulls back from the crassest of places to melt us all into another state.

Coldplay’s new record is a little edgier, trancier, and more conversational than their last. It is called A Rush of Blood to the Head, and in waves and swells of major tunes and frisky then looping time signatures, that’s just about the effect it has.

Where Parachutes was a tangible construction of radio-friendly stories of connection and melody, this year’s creation is a small step toward experimentation. There are tracks hinting at an intention to open out and gather some roughage. It could be another band that does the heaviest song: “Whisper.” Ironic? The onomatopoeic title is almost the piece’s only lyric that rushes out of Martin, and up and under anxious instrumental textures: live piano, pubbish strings, layers of rhythm. Johnny Buckland steps forward with his guitar, showing that straggly-haired stuff bubbles beneath his bowl cut. It could be the Police. It’s Coldplay fitting out new shapes and colors.

This is the band who came through and survived the waves of seductive sad alternative male pop-rock from that side of the world, all overshadowed by the one ambitious bear that is Radiohead. The song leading them to the front of the room expressed a curious desire with a curious color. “I drew a line, I drew a line for you,” Martin croaked. “Oh, what a thing to do. ‘Cos you were all yellow.”

“Green Eyes, you were the one I was looking for,” Martin romances now. “Any-one who could deny you must be out of their mind.” “Green Eyes” is not this album’s “Yellow.” It’s folkier, drier, and more direct with metaphor. Martin stands on a rock that is his great love and wants to talk. Sometimes we don’t understand him because his mouth doesn’t open enough or his head is turned too far to the side. He bangs out standard chords and sweaty love-letter lyrics, and as time passes lowers the reverb that introduced him. Here’s another song that Coldplay would be see-through without. “Green Eyes” is unadorned. Skin and bones are getting into everything.

With their textbook formula, Coldplay entered the world’s charts in 2000, first at home, then briefly over here, hooking us with a quirky sense of romance that split even the most unassuming of stocky guys’ hearts. In “Trouble” on Parachutes, Martin lost his head, thinking of all the stupid things he said. He broke away from the Jeff Buckley branding iron with a song range that was diverse, yet simple enough. The shortest song on Parachutes was a folk stanza with a guitar and the leading man.

Coldplay would fail if they were writing fiction. Tabletop poetry is their forte, and this new collection of it should have the world on their windowsills wearing frilly white knickers above precocious knees. A Rush of Blood to the Head is a sensible splurge of soft and confusion in which these breakthrough Brits stay close whilst making sudden movements with newfound limbs. It’s hard not to gush over them.

Coldplay play Jones Beach with Ash September 19.