Soft Touch

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Few bands have taken as much abuse for what they are not as Coldplay. The British foursome sold 5 million copies of its very good first album, 2000's Parachutes, but was slagged on both sides of the Atlantic because its abstract, lovelorn pop was neither abstract enough to be Radiohead nor pop enough to be Oasis. This middle existence between the brains and the brawn of British rock led Alan McGee, the manager who discovered Oasis, to dismiss Coldplay as "music for bed wetters."

Coldplay's second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, finds the band plowing ahead with the bed-wetter thing and improving. Lead singer Chris Martin has a lovely high voice, and he has all the solipsistic tendencies of a latter-day Morrissey. He writes about breakups and sadness and fear of death, but unlike so many other weary chroniclers, he is a romantic not a cynic. When he sings "Nobody said it was easy, it's such a shame for us to part" over the brooding keys of The Scientist or "The truth is I miss you" on Warning Sign, he sounds in love with love, which may make him even wetter than McGee thought.

The advance on Rush is that Martin's voice is tethered to some terrific music. Parachutes was full of floating guitars and twinkling pianos that laid the framework for a Coldplay sound-a sound that got a little boring over the course of an album. Rush still hovers more than it grinds, but the group is now unafraid of the occasional tempo shift, and on some songs drummer Will Champion even trades in his brushes for real live drumsticks! The result, on standout tracks Politik and Clocks, is a low-adrenaline kick from the music and high romance from Martin. And that makes the middle a very nice place to be.

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