Coldplay in 2000
Photo: Benedict Johnson/Redferns
How Coldplay's 'Parachutes' Ushered In A New Wave Of Mild-Mannered Guitar Bands
The dazzling live shows filled with pyrotechnics, confetti cannons and synchronized LED wristbands. The collabs with everyone from the irreproachable Beyoncé to The Chainsmokers. The color co-ordinated outfits, environmental activism and unconscious couplings. It's now hard to imagine Coldplay as anything than other a well-oiled machine who have usurped U2 as the world’s most recognizable stadium band.
Yet back at the turn of the century Chris Martin and Co. didn’t appear prime candidates for global domination. As this recently resurfaced photo shows, the quartet's unassuming fashion sense didn't extend beyond the student staple of hoodies and corduroys. And their sound was almost entirely free of the studio trickery that would permeate their future chart-topping singalongs.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this month (July 10), debut album Parachutes remains Coldplay's most primitive work. Even its cover art—a $20 globe snapped on a disposable Kodak camera—retained the no-frills approach. But it remains by far and away their most influential, too.
Frontman Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion headed into Wales' Rockford Studios to begin Parachutes' recording toward the end of 1999, an era where commercial British guitar music appeared slightly lost.
The heavyweights of the once-ubiquitous Cool Britannia movement had either gone AWOL (The Verve), drowned in their own hype (Oasis) or moved onto more challenging, sonically complex fare (Blur). And the post-Britpop bands that had emerged in their wake were struggling to make any lasting impression.
However, the slow-building success of Travis' The Man Who suggested that change was afoot. The Scots' perfectly timed rendition of "Why Does It Always Rain on Me" as the heavens opened at Glastonbury had become the defining moment of that summer's U.K. festival season. And Fran Healy’s boyish looks and willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve showed that loud and lairy didn’t have to be British indie's default mode.
1998's Safety EP, and closer "Such a Rush," in particular, proves Coldplay were already exploring their sensitive side before Travis' unlikely rise to headliner status. However, the Glaswegians' golden period may well have given Martin the impetus and the confidence to double down on all the melancholy.
Indeed, Parachutes is a far moodier and more atmospheric listen than The Man Who. Having watched their early performances supporting Gomez, the band whose Mercury Prize-winning debut he produced, Ken Nelson realized that Coldplay often left themselves little room to breathe. On his advice, the group slowed down things dramatically—you can almost hear a pin drop inbetween Martin's pleading melodies and Buckland's plaintive riffs on the acoustic balladry of "Sparks," for example.
As a result, Martin's ability to shift from solemn baritone to Jeff Buckley-esque falsetto within the same verse was often allowed to take center stage. So was his fondness for lyrical platitudes: "Yellow"—recently covered by the current Dr. Who, remarkably enough—has likely been belted out in unison at countless festivals over the past two decades, while its accompanying music video is surprisingly minimal, a black-and-white, drizzly long shot depicting a baby-faced Martin singing to the camera in a long walk on the chilly-looking U.K. shore.
Released in a year when Oasis were continuing to turn things up to eleven and Radiohead were turning experimental on Kid A, Parachutes’ spaciousness and simplicity was a unique selling point.
By the time "Trouble," a haunting piano-led lament to the band’s early behind-the-scenes tensions, became single number three in October, the record was already fast on its way to a million U.K. sales. Pretty soon, audiences stateside were also connecting with its themes—although Parachutes never peaked any higher than No.51 on the Billboard 200, it did reach double-platinum status and pick up a Best Alternative Music Album GRAMMY Award.
Of course, not everyone was enamored with the group’s sentimental tendencies. The ever-forthright Noel Gallagher reportedly described Coldplay as "a bunch of f***in’ pansies," his Creation boss Alan McGee dismissed them as "bedwetters" and Pitchfork’s sniffy review simply opened with 19 synonyms for the word "inoffensive."
For Gallagher and McGee, in particular, Coldplay’s everyday demeanor and introspective sound were the complete antithesis of what an indie band should be. Martin was the kind of frontman you could take home to your mom for dinner without worrying about causing offense. And apart from the clattering drums and fuzzed-up guitars of "Shiver"—one of the heaviest moments in the group’s back catalog—Parachutes felt just as suited to the sophisticated dinner party as the teenage bedroom.
But Coldplay, and to a lesser extent Travis, helped to open the floodgates for those who didn’t subscribe to the Rock N’ Roll Star way of thinking. You never saw Martin stumbling out of a club at 4 a.m. with a glamor model, that’s for sure.
Starsailor, a band even more indebted to the swooping dramatics of Jeff Buckley, were one of the first to capitalize, with 2001 debut Love Is Here reaching at No. 2 in their native U.K. Fellow Northerners Elbow, who Martin would later admit to stealing from, heightened the emotions even further on the Mercury Prize-nominated Asleep in the Back later that same year. Turin Brakes, Thirteen Senses, Athlete and Aqualung were just a few of the other outfits who followed suit, while Keane, who briefly replaced Coldplay as the music press' whipping boys, put their own spin on things by eschewing guitars for the grand piano.
Interestingly, several bands who'd formed before Coldplay ended up adopting their sad guitar template, too. Snow Patrol had plugged away to little avail for several years before "Run," a grandiose lighters-in-the-air anthem in the vein of "Yellow," helped 2004’s Final Straw shift five million copies. Feeder and Embrace had already achieved modest success in the 1990s but enjoyed a second wind with Coldplay-adjacent releases—the former’s Pushing the Senses was produced by Nelson, while the latter’s triumphant comeback single "Gravity" was written by Martin, et al.
And American bands weren’t immune to Parachutes’ power either. You can certainly hear its DNA in the sync license-friendly pop-rock of The Fray and the earlier work of hit machine Ryan Tedder’s OneRepublic, for example.
Eventually, following 2005’s aesthetically similar X&Y, the group began to distance themselves from their roots, embracing everything from experimental art rock to hands-in-the-air EDM. Even though the band went on to explore a multitude of new genres in the two decades since their studio debut, the 20-year-old Parachutes to this day sounds both timeless and, with the recent success of similarly earnest everymen Lewis Capaldi, George Ezra, surprisingly timely, too.