It’s Chris Martin’s 40th birthday today (March 2). Let’s take a look back at Coldplay’s first great triumph, their debut album ‘Parachutes’, an enigmatic indie whisper that set them on course to life as one of the biggest bands on the planet. But where did each track come from and what does it all mean?
Over 15 years ago, Coldplay released their very first LP – the majestic and subtle ‘Parachutes’. It kickstarted their rise into one of the planet’s biggest bands – but what is each track really about? Here’s a guide…
‘Don’t Panic’: An early version of the dreamy, downbeat opener of ‘Parachutes’ had been around since 1998. Only then, it was called ‘Panic’ and inspired by “slightly disastrous evening Chris had spent entertaining a young lady called Alice Hill.” A reworked version was recorded for 1999’s ‘The Blue Room’ EP, and then retooled again for ‘Parachutes’, with added use of a pump organ to boot.
‘Shiver’: Inspired by a mysterious woman who Martin was infatuated with, ‘Shiver’ also betrays the frontman’s obsession with another figure: US singer Jeff Buckley. He later admitted: “It’s a blatant Jeff Buckley attempt. Not quite as good, that’s what I think. We were 21 and he was very much a hero, and as with those things it tends to filter through.”
‘Spies’: Coldplay’s stealthy tribute to the world of espionage, and the toll it takes on those who have to live with dual identities: “I awake to find no peace of mind/ I said how do you live/ As a fugitive?” It’s been claimed that the band, all big fans of the James Bond film series and film composer John Barry, saw it as their ode to the 007 agent.
‘Sparks’: Unlike ‘Shiver’, where Martin casts himself as a luckless loser when it comes to love, on ‘Sparks’ he’s trying to convince an ex that he’s worth another punt – but there’s also a sly hint, too, that he knows he’ll let her down again. “And I know I was wrong,” he sings over the gentle acoustic guitar. “But I won’t let you down/ Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, yeah I will, yes I will.”
‘Yellow’: Legend has it that, while outside a recording studio in Wales, Martin was so taken with the stars in the night sky that he began composing a song. He felt it was missing one key lyric until he spied a Yellow Pages inside the studio. Et voila! Beware, though: he’s also claimed that that the song started life as a Neil Young impersonation to entertain some guests.
‘Trouble’: One of the anthemic highlights of ‘Parachutes’, and a song that built bridges between the band and helped mend rocky relationships, too. “There were some bad things going in our band,” Martin has said of the song’s meaning. “The song is about behaving badly towards somebody you really love and I was certainly doing that to some members of the band.”
‘Parachutes’: The LP’s title track is a brief interlude that clocks in at just 46 seconds. “In a haze, a stormy haze/ I’ll be round, I’ll be loving you always,” sings Martin. Originally, he and his bandmates had planned on calling their debut ‘Don’t Panic’ or ‘Yellow’, but decided that ‘Parachutes’, a metaphor for something that helps you to safety when in danger, was less depressing.
‘High Speed’: More relationship angst, as a helter-skelter romance is compared to the dangers of hurtling along in a high-speed aircraft. “Can anybody fly this thing?” asks Martin of his wobbly situation. “Before my head explodes/ Or my head starts to ring.”
10‘We Never Change’
‘We Never Change’: Coldplay’s early-life crisis, in which Martin frets over how he wants to live life. “I want to fly/ And never come down,” he declares early, looking for excitement, but later he flip-flops to simpler pleasures: “So I want to live in a wooden house.” The chorus, though, suggests it’s all for nothing; plan all you like, but you’ll never stick to the sweeping changes.
11‘Everything’s Not Lost’
‘Everything’s Not Lost’: The last song of ‘Parachutes’ also contains a secret hidden track, the horn-parping ‘Life Is For Living’, delivering a rousing climax: a way of washing away any of the doubts and fears that have gone before and looking to the future: “When you thought that it was over/ You could feel it all around/ Everybody’s out to get you/ Don’t you let it drag you down.”