On its 2000 debut, Coldplay sounded like a band that took Radiohead's "Knives Out" a bit too literally, slicing and dicing that group's sound to bits, trimming away all the ambition in favor of sheer digestibility. Ironically, it only made Coldplay that much harder to swallow -- especially with a singer who sounds kind of like a British Dave Matthews, and a melancholy as monochromatic as the title of its breakout single, "Yellow."
But on its exceptional second album, Coldplay rebounds with a much stronger blend of austerity and adventure. Yes, the Radiohead comparisons are still apt, primarily because the progression this band has made from its debut is almost as striking as Thom Yorke and Co.'s development from Pablo Honey to The Bends. But that's where the comparisons end. A symphonic slow burn, A Rush of Blood to the Head sounds more like a singles collection than a proper album. Opener "Politik" blends throbbing piano and papier-mâché vocals into an early crescendo -- a formula that's repeated throughout the album. "A Whisper" is a disquieting, multihued rocker that's equally clamorous and calming. "Clocks" is a beatific, bracing ballad anchored by a backbeat that belongs on the Autobahn, as is the driving "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face." Surprisingly, Coldplay's put one on ours, too.