The year 2000 was a heartening one for British music. While Radiohead kicked off the soundtrack to the 21st century, the class of Y2K — including Badly Drawn Boy, Doves and Coldplay — showed there’s still some room for guitar-based, midtempo, introspective rock.
Coldplay’s Parachutes has been heralded by the British press as a top record of 2000 and, unlike some recent duds (Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers), the wild proclamations actually hold up. The influences on Coldplay are easy to pick out: Jeff Buckley, Red House Painters, the aforementioned Radiohead, ’80s groups such as the Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Go-Betweens. There are also obvious similarities to that other recent darling of the UK, Travis.
What’s good about Parachutes is Coldplay’s absolutely gorgeous and moving songwriting. The sonic palette for the modern rock band is sorely limited; there are only so many instruments (i.e. guitar, bass, drums, maybe a piano/keyboard), chord progressions, notes and melodies to work with. What is unlimited, however, is emotional territory and Parachutes displays a profound and subtle vulnerability.
The ambiguity of a world containing equal parts beauty and despair is a constant theme throughout the album. The opening track, “Don’t Panic,” laments: “Home is places we’ve grown/All of us are done for,” only to be followed by, “We live in a beautiful world, yeah we do, yeah we do.” Each lyric might individually seem insincere, but taken together, they create an overriding ambiguity that rings wholly true.
Another example is the outstanding single, “Yellow.” Amidst a simple, four-chord love song is an exploding chorus that sends chills down your back, its impact proof of Coldplay’s tight-knit dedication. Tension, however, hides just behind optimism — yellow refers to the not-quite-bright stars that shine down on a lover. The song ends with the introduction of a minor chord, raising just enough doubt to remain personal and true.
The best records stay with you even when not on the stereo. The meaning of each song grows as the truth hiding between the hooks and melodies sinks its teeth in. Parachutes proves that some of today’s best indie/underground music (yes, what used to be alternative) is coming from the UK. And this is one of the very best.
Aaron Warshaw is the MT listings editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.