Coldplay are an easy target, and for good reason. It’s incredibly easy to dismantle their derivative sound, and admittedly rather fun. Keen defenders of the band are quick to point out that their earlier albums showed exciting potential, and whilst Parachutes is no doubt a pleasant listen, I don’t wholly agree. There is very little here that arouses anything resembling excitement, or any other sensation for that matter. Listening to Coldplay’s debut album is effortless, requiring almost nothing from the listener. I see the value in that, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a good portion of the tracklist. It’s just too damn passive for my liking. It’s so inoffensive that it inadvertently becomes offensive.
Parachutes has plenty of memorable hooks and melancholic sing-a-longs. Had Coldplay gone on to do great things, I imagine that their debut record would have been looked back on rather fondly, at least as a showcase of fundamentals within sombre pop-rock. Instead, it lays bare the many influences that formed the arena-rock titans that we know today. Without even scratching the surface you hear elements of U2, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, and, of course, Travis. Crucially, Parachutes lacks the passion that made these artists so beloved (to various degrees). On the lavish opener “Dont Panic”, Chris Martin sings ‘we live in a beautiful World’ as though he’s tired of the very thing he’s gushing over. Lyrically, he’s unable to move past sugary sentiments, showcased clearly on “Yellow”: ‘look at the stars/look how they shine for you/and everything you do.’
No doubt, Parachutes laid a solid-yet-unexciting foundation. Initially, there was some hope: A Rush of Blood to the Head was an improvement in certain areas, despite the band still feeling hopelessly contained. Four years after their debut record, Radiohead released an album that sent shockwaves through the scene, and it continues to astound listeners to this day. As a contrast, Coldplay took no time at all in becoming the blandest ‘biggest band on the Planet’ that the 21st Century had seen. Someone needs to do it, I suppose, and there’s obviously a market for it. As it happens, I’m actually very thankful that Coldplay continue to exist. Sometimes I take genuinely good music for granted, and these lovely chaps continue to offer me perspective. In some twisted, roundabout way, their presence is always reminding me to acknowledge and appreciate those artists we hold so dearly. In conclusion: Parachutes is fine.6 10
Favourite tracks // Don’t Panic
While explaining to Howard Stern that “Yellow”, the greatest song of all time, is meaningless — absolutely meaningless — Chris Martin just about sums up Coldplay perfectly: ‘It was a feeling more than a meaning.’
Parachutes is a big ol’ dose of feeling. Chris Martin coos over a warm, shiny, radio-friendly mix with that patented Chris Martin timbre and life suddenly seems quite pleasant, in a drifting, vacant sort of way. Tracks like “Shiver” and “Trouble” are truly lovely, with the sheen on the guitar sitting especially well in the mix.
It’s hardly otherworldly music, but then it doesn’t claim to be. Parallels to Radiohead have always struck me as a bit laboured. It’s like comparing Scooby and Scrappy Doo. (Nine Inch Nails are Cujo, if you were wondering.) Coldplay offer competent pop-rock with enough hits to balance out the duds. That’s how they started with Parachutes, and that’s how they went on.
Is Chris Martin actually a mass-murdering psychopath with a skull collection in his cellar? Probably, but for as long as he evades capture we have to give him the benefit of the doubt. As things stand Parachutes is nice-feeling music written by nice-seeming blokes. It’s easy to mock, but it’s easy to like, too.7 10
Favourite tracks // Shiver
I returned to Coldplay’s debut with low expectations. Often touted as a lightweight tribute of some other post-Britpop band, they get a lot of heat for only being surface deep. Parachutes, however, has a lot going for it.
The front half of the tracklist is filled with hooks, with “Shiver” providing a particularly satisfying set of twinkly, rhythmic, raucous guitar lines throughout. “Sparks” meanwhile is a warm, hugging love song, using Chris Martin’s laidback, delicate vocal style to its advantage. “Trouble” joins with a, now familiar, Coldplay piano riff, breaking up an otherwise guitar-laden album.
The elephant in the room is “Yellow”, a staple Coldplay track and probably the most memorable single from this album, its central lyrical content boils down to little aside from vague positivity and good feeling and its instrumental mirrors it, just sounding ‘nice.’ My irrational issue with the track, however, is the snare. Positioned precariously atop Chris Martin’s head, and recorded in a toilet, it pierces right through the centre of the skull for four minutes, twanging away in an off-key offensive. I can only assume that drummer Will Champion has freakishly long arms to reach such a distant snare drum. It makes for a painful listen for me. How did no one feel the same pain before its release? Honestly? Pain…
Irrationality aside, “Yellow” does exemplify a wider issue here. It’s no hot take, but a lot of Parachutes isn’t ‘set the world on fire’ music. It’s nice, wholesome, catchy music and the fact that the most passionate feelings I have for the album are about the disagreeable audio production for a snare on a single track probably goes a long way to demonstrate how I feel about this album overall. It doesn’t make me feel much and it doesn’t leave a lasting impression afterwards, it’s the epitome of ‘a nice listen.’
Parachutes showed a lot of promise. With strong technical skill from all involved, I’ve no doubt that 20 years ago I’d have been hoping for bigger and better after a strong first outing. On its own, however, it isn’t an album I’ve given a lot of playtime to over the years, and I don’t think my experience here will change that.6 10
Favourite tracks // Shiver