Though he's fallen so deeply in love with his own voice that he's now unable to distinguish between pining and whining--seen the live video for "Clocks," where he does a little ill-advised scatting over that glittering groove?--Coldplay front man Chris Martin has emerged as the New British Guitar-Pop Thing's de facto leader, providing U2 fans with a youthful jolt U2 can no longer provide, churning out moony-eyed paeans to colors young actresses tend to dig, wearing slogan-bearing T-shirts that probably won't make a difference but sure should. A Rush of Blood to the Head shows he pretty much deserves the seat, too: The band's second album just does what the first one did, only better and louder and with more interest in texture and dynamics and stuff. I know, I miss the genteel schoolboy shuffle of "Yellow," too, but if this music's gonna go anywhere besides Johnny Marr's scrapbook, somebody's gotta move it along.
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Opener Ron Sexsmith isn't cut out to lead much of anything--seen the cover of 1999's Whereabouts, where he's handling a maple leaf as if it might talk back to him?--but his latest, Cobblestone Runway, suggests that the supply of lovely, writerly pop songs he's got buried within his sad-clown mien might be inexhaustible. Martin even shows up on a bonus version of "Gold in Them Hills," and the pairing does each man well--Sexsmith sounds like a babe; Martin sounds like less of one.