Whether you’re actively aware of it, there is nothing so satisfying on a Sunday marred with precipitation as good emotional pop-rock. Melancholy and potentially lamenting vocals, soothing guitar enhanced with wa-wa pedals, maybe a single slow piano. Digital effects a la the latter half of the new Moby album. British band Coldplay has captured this perfectly on their first release, Parachutes. Catchy riffs and sing-along lyrics add up to an album experience of moody bliss.
Coldplay’s first full-length album is already generating an underground following of fans with fiercely distinguishing tastes. With a sound reminiscent of early U2 ballads and a Blur vocal style, the talented boys from Liverpool, Chris Martin, Guy Berryman, Jon Buckland and Will Champion, have recently found themselves in the midst of a media circus with Parachutes. Already nominated for three Brit Awards in the Best Album, Best British Group and Best Newcomer-Indie categories, Coldplay has been exalted to a status equal to Radiohead and Robbie Williams in terms of British critical success.
Parachutes’ appeal resonates beyond its obvious critical attractiveness. They not only display instrumental talent and songwriting vision, but also the kind of aching harmony and moody introspection in each song that easily establishes them as a worthwhile band outside the spectrum of the tired categorization “Britpop.”
“Yellow,” the first single, is perhaps the most energetic, combining forceful rhythm guitar and the occasional high falsetto of front-man Chris Martin. Recalling the joy of first love in a Thom Yorke-like strained British accent, Martin has created a worthy addition to radio-land. Despite the adrenaline of the electric guitars, the youthful innocence of the composition still manages to enhance an overall atmosphere of calm in keeping with the rest of the album.
The gradually building crescendo of “Everything’s not Lost,” the seven-minute final track, smacks of future live-show jam sessions. On the mid-album vignette, “Parachutes,” acoustic guitars recall Travis while maintaining the integrity of Coldplay as individuals within the greater spectrum of the late-90s movement dubbed “Cool Britannia.”
The poetic lyrical quality of each track should not be overlooked while enjoying the view from the musical heights of the album as a whole, either. The irony within “Don’t Panic’s” lines, “Homes, places we’ve grown/ All of us are done for/ We live in a beautiful world,” touch a human nerve in the listener. The evident disillusionment avoids coming across as whining, however, which is a skill never quite mastered by several other British acts. Each song has a hypnotic element, often melding lyrical beauty with musical landscapes that defy explanation. Most concern love and subsequent heartache but each does so uniquely and haunts the listener while leaving traces of memorable notes to be stuck in your head for hours.
The musical structure varies enough so that any monotony produced by similar themes and mood is levied. While most songs are led by a strong guitar melody, several, like “Trouble,” are dominated by piano chords and the sad refrain, “I never meant to cause you trouble/ I never meant to be alone.” The layered throbbing guitar of “Yellow” contrasts with the single, affected plucking on “Spies.”
Coldplay deserves more than a barrage of Radiohead comparisons for their efforts. While equally capable and surprisingly mature in their song structure for the youth of the band as a signed act, Coldplay’s relevance will surely outlast the critical rush to label them “mini-Radiohead.” Their present level of advanced and individual style and musical exploration sets them apart from most fledgling bands reckoning with the pressure of instant critical adulation and first effort gold. The future likely holds bright things for Coldplay. The comparisons will stop, their talent will continue to be recognized and the lines from “Shiver,” “I will always be waiting for you/ so I look in your direction/ but you pay me no attention/ and you know how much I need you/ but you never even see me” will exist only in song.
Mainstream Britpop obviously does not appeal to everyone. While pioneer groups like Radiohead and Oasis have brought English bands onto America’s radiowaves, more underground acts like Coldplay have yet to attract the attention of American media beyond a place on Spin’s ‘Best of’ lists. This is a good thing. Coldplay doesn’t need an MTV circus around them to reach fans of mellow, quality rock. For these people, there is no better addition to a gray day than indulging in the sweet beauty of Parachutes.