No one likes a copy or do they? Like U2 and The Alarm, the English band Coldplay was often compared to and called a bad copy of Radiohead. The comparisons were inevitable given that Radiohead’s (by now 5 year old) The Bends was similar in tone to Parachutes, the first LP from Coldplay. Coldplay could more likely trace its immediate influences to fellow English bands James and Keen. Keane and Coldplay even crossed paths very early as one of Coldplay’s founders, Chris Martin tried recruiting a keyboard player from Keane. The two bands developed a similar sound, while Keane became a favorite of the critics, Coldplay would be a favorite of the charts.
That popularity was in no small part to their safe and familiar sound that blended trace elements of U2 with Radiohead and touches of the ’70s. The Radiohead comparisons followed them around until the experimental Kid A album. The void left some Radiohead fans without the sound they loved on The Bends and Coldplay seemed to fill that void. Although Coldplay’s version of the sound as featured on Parachutes lacked the depth and lyrical irony, it represented what the market wanted..
Some of Parachutes charms goes beyond Radiohead comparisons to rock traditions of the ’70s. Lou Reed for instance often wrote songs that were happy but wrapped musically in sad melancholy. The 1972 song ‘Perfect Day’ is a good example of calming melancholy with a touch of lyrical irony. Coldplay would use a similar formula, although it was lost on many casual listeners. Parachutes brought this tradition into the small years of the new millennium by impacting the charts in a big way. While not unique in its approach to melancholy, Parachutes offered just enough familiarity to become the non-offensive indie-rock sound of choice on the world’s Muzak systems.
The band’s debut became a huge hit in Europe and America. Like a more accessible Radiohead, Coldplay was briefly tagged “the biggest rock band in the world”, based on the list of awards they collected in 2002 (that included a Grammy) and their domination of rock album and later the pop charts during 2000-01. Modern rock for the people could have been the band’s tagline as lead vocalist Chris Martin was praised for his emotive delivery (although his vocal range seemed limited by the mid tempo nature of the songs). At moments, Martin could sound like a range restricted Jeff Buckley, or at worst, just another wining emo singer. Either way the effect was calming, yet emotional and heartfelt at times.
The reviews were mostly positive. While many critics were swayed by Martin’s emotionalism, others still were not impressed. A The Village Voice critic called Parachutes ordinary and forgettable. I might have agreed with them after hearing ‘Yellow’ the first hit single, but it was the beautiful song ‘Trouble’ that got my attention. Built simply around a guitar, piano and snare drum, it exemplified the best of what the album had to offer.
Detractors aside, Parachutes was actually a welcomed reprieve in an era dominated by the off-shoots of grunge like the “man rock” of Korn or Creed and the high energy dance-pop-rap of Sisqo . Musically, Parachutes was like warm milk, the complete opposite to most of the noise on the charts . You could listen to it before going to sleep, not because it was boring. The lack of sonic highs and lows meant that your focused attention would never be needed as you were trying to wind down.
For a young band with a fresh debut, Parachutes was an accomplishment to be proud of. Even though the band seemed to be looking for their niche, they stayed true to their principles. By not agreeing to commercial or even soundtrack deals, they cultivated an almost righteous image much like U2 in the early days. That may be why I seem to encounter just as many people who love the band as hate them.
The band must have listened to criticism or just wanted to move out of Radiohead’s old shadow. The follow-up, A Rush of Blood to the Head was a critically and commercially acclaimed departure from the sound laid down in Parachutes. However much they have changed, the fact is I still don’t sleep well some nights and Parachutes is still just what the doctor ordered.