After their 2000 debut Parachutes had made Coldplay the new big thing in alt-rock, these blokes were ready for the masses. For their sophomore album A Rush of Blood to the Head — released 15 years ago on Aug. 27, 2002 in the U.S. (a day earlier in the U.K.) — this British band pumped up the stakes and their sound. And in the process, Chris Martin and crew made their Joshua Tree, a Grammy-winning work that has, with all of its set-list fixtures, stood the test of time.
To celebrate the anniversary of this LP, EW ranks all 11 tracks on Coldplay’s classic.
11. “A Whisper”
Falling in the second half of this front-loaded album, this track may not resonate as powerfully as some of the other, more memorable moments. Still, it’s an atmospheric rush that provides a showcase for Jonny Buckland’s guitar work, while Chris Martin’s moody vocals slip in and around the soundscape without disrupting the ambience.
“I am nothing in the dark,” sings Martin on “Daylight.” Clearly, he needed a brightness adjustment after the somberness of the previous track, “Warning Sign.” Martin can see some sunlight on this piano rocker, which surfs through the skies with the greatest of ease, getting a little bump from Guy Berryman’s bass.
9. “A Rush of Blood to the Head”
The title tune, which starts as a stripped-down strummer with just Buckland’s acoustic guitar and Martin’s vocal, was inspired by Johnny Cash. While it swells to arena size, it never loses the intense focus needed to give lyrics like “I’m gonna buy a gun and start a war / If you can tell me something worth fighting for” maximum impact.
Although the song is named after the capital of the Netherlands, the only real relation is that Chris Martin wrote it while in Amsterdam. This piano ballad brings A Rush of Blood to the Head to a haunting close with its spooky, almost-goth background vocals and lyrics despairing that “my star is fading.”
7. “Green Eyes”
This folky declaration, which picks up a bit of a country stomp around the two-minute mark, is probably the purest love song on the album. Martin wrote it about a woman who he “could never go on without” before Gwyneth Paltrow came along (her eyes are blue anyway). There’s an earnest sweetness here that harks back to “Sparks” on Coldplay’s debut Parachutes.
6. “Warning Sign”
About a man who “started looking for excuses” to get out of a relationship and then regrets letting her go, this heartfelt lament shows exactly why Coldplay became poster boys for sensitive dudes everywhere. By the song’s end, Martin’s melancholy mea culpa has earned him a second chance, as he crawls back into her open arms.
The dramatic opener opened up our eyes right away to the fact that Coldplay meant business on their second album. With those industrial-strength chords reminiscent of their big Parachutes hit “Yellow,” it announced that, after taking on Radiohead on their debut, now they were ready to go after U2.
4. “In My Place”
The first single was also the first song the band wrote for this album after they finished Parachutes. Soaring beyond the stadium to the heavens with that chiming guitar and a chorus that has been the source of countless singalongs, it won the quartet a Grammy (for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group in 2003) and a permanent place in the hearts of many fans.
3. “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face”
God put some soul into Coldplay on the fourth and final AROBTTH single, with Martin getting his groove on to Berryman’s thumping bass. Packing a muscular swagger, the song — which 50 Cent riffed on in 2005’s “God Gave Me Style” and Mark Ronson covered on 2007’s Version — rocks harder than anything else on the album.
2. “The Scientist”
After trying to play George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” on an old, out-of-tune piano in Liverpool, Chris Martin came up with this fan favorite, which spawned a VMA-winning video. This plaintive piano ballad nails the deep ache of wanting to “go back to the start” of a relationship gone painfully wrong.
A Rush of Blood to the Head would still have been pretty special without its biggest hit. But it’s hard to imagine the album sans its centerpiece, which, recorded as a demo late in the game, was originally intended to be held for Coldplay’s third LP. The last-minute addition of “Clocks” — with its cascading piano line that goes around and around in your head — was right on time to make this their defining moment. Earning the Record of the Year Grammy in 2004, the song will live on eternally.