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Albums

Best albums of 2000: #4 Coldplay “Parachutes”

Back when I wrote about the song “Yellow” to finish off my Best tunes of 2000 list, I wrote how I still remembered first hearing the track on the radio and the excitement I felt in experiencing it. I also briefly played the game of trying to get us all to remember this same feeling, “Yellow”, before everything that came after with Coldplay. A tough task to be sure, given that Will Champion, Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, and Chris Martin make up what is still surely one of the world’s biggest bands and one of the more commercially successful rock acts of the 21st century.

To be honest, I don’t listen to Coldplay all that often any more and don’t think I’ve heard even a note of their last two records. However, I really liked their first three records and perhaps to a lesser extent, their fourth. Indeed, “Parachutes” is still, for me, a classic, the measuring stick by which I’ve always judged their latter work. It is the sound of a young band finding their feet after a few years of slogging it out on the live circuit and striking gold.

The album went to number one on the UK album charts and though it took a bit longer, went platinum many times over in the states. It was long listed for the Mercury prize and has been cited as influential by more than a few newer bands, which is more than we can say for anything by them that came later. Interesting, then, that the boys in Coldplay don’t really like the album all that much.

“Parachutes” nicely filled the British guitar rock void, just recently vacated by Radiohead, when that latter band decided to go experimental and electronic, a fact to which many critics attributed Coldplay’s early success. But for me, the album wasn’t just a rehash or throwaway. It was beautiful stuff. It was long-faced and grieving and claustrophobic production. It was the unexpected discovery of a new voice in Chris Martin, a breath of fresh air before all the pretence set in. It was Coldplay’s most passionate work because it wasn’t planned or expected or foreshadowed. And unfortunately, this kind of perfection can never be replicated.

It’s more than likely that most of you know the ten tracks on this release but I welcome you all to revisit them without delay, starting now with my three picks for you.


“Shiver”: The first single to be released off the album in the band’s native country was the second to come out on this side of the Atlantic. Chris Martin has admitted that he wrote the song with a particular woman in mind but has never given up her identity. “From the moment I wake to the moment I sleep, I’ll be there by your side – just you try and stop me.” Martin has also said that in an attempt to channel Jeff Buckley, the band created their “most blatant ripoff”, and a poor one at that. I’ll have to take his word for it because I’m not all that familiar with Buckley’s work but this track a heartbreaker. A jangling mesh of guitars that starts off in the distance but moves ever closer until it bursts into flames. And then, quiet – an easing, a stepping aside for Martin to shuffle into the light. Finally, it’s all him, pouring it all on, aching with his soul, and he leans on those driving guitars to hold him upright. Else, he might melt into a puddle of yearning.

“Don’t panic”: The opening number on the album was released as a single almost a year after the album’s release. And yet it is one of the band’s earliest known songs, first seeing the light of day as early as 1998. This version, the one I know and love, is perhaps much different than how it originated. And to be honest, I’ve never bothered to try to find out. I love this two minute wonder. It starts with a gentle strum and an even gentler touch on drums, Chris Martin is almost whispering, intimate, an aside to himself and millions of others. “And we live in a beautiful world. Yeah we do, yeah we do, we live in a beautiful world.” The guitars jangle and chime and sing and echo in, shattering a mirror into a million sparkling pieces. The world as microcosm, beauty in infinity, quiet in expansiveness. A young Chris Martin is reassuring himself and us at the same time.

“Yellow”: As I inferred above, this song was and still is my favourite song from the year 2000. It is iconic. It was the beginning of something and the end of something else. It was released as the second song off the album in the UK but first in the US. It was my introduction to the band, as it was to many others. It was in heavy rotation everywhere, ubiquitous for a time, but for me, it never became old, despite the oversaturation. I got sick of the band before I got sick of the song. This is pop perfection. A hammering on the guitars, all violence and passion, a threat to fall apart but yet somehow holding it all together. Chris Martin is right on this same page, singing softly but in a quiet rage, falsettos floating on a cloud of reverb. “I came along, I wrote a song for you, and all the things you do, and it was called Yellow.” It is romance. It is love. And a hopeless romantic like me could never resist it.


To be honest, this particular post is late by a few weeks and now, with my new philosophy for the site, I’m definitely not going to promise when we’ll get to album #3. So in the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Richard Ashcroft “Alone with everybody”
9. The New Pornographers “Mass romantic”
8. The Cure  “Bloodflowers”
7. The Weakerthans “Left and leaving”
6. The Clientele “Suburban light”
5. Belle and Sebastian “Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2003: #30 The Coral “Liezah”

#29 >>

This new list counting down my favourite thirty tunes of 2003 starts off with “Liezah”, a non-single to which I was partial from The Coral’s sophomore album, “Magic and medicine”.

I remember becoming super enamoured with the zaniness of these youngsters’ self-titled debut, especially the infectious hit single, “Dreaming of you”, which appeared at number three on my list for 2002. That album was free-wheeling and full of exuberance and definitely sounded like it had creativity and energy to spare. So it didn’t come as a surprise to me when I heard news of a follow up so soon after I discovered them. In fact, the band members first headed to the studio to work on their sophomore album a mere three months after the debut was released. The sessions were split into a few chunks and were wrapped up in the spring of 2003.

“Magc and medicine” was released on “The Coral”’s first year anniversary, give or take a day, and the difference between the two is remarkable. It’s definitely more polished and tame, something that might not seem like a good thing to all. Where the debut was a melange of everything that made psychedelia great, the scope of the sophomore was more narrow, focused on a bluesier psych-rock in the vein of The Animals. I still enjoyed much of the music and show of musicianship but the lustre was dimmed for me.

Track number three was the exception to all this for me. “Liezah” was even more toned down and scaled back than the rest of the record and yet it somehow managed to share the spark that I saw in “Dreaming of you”. It’s got a bopping baseline that can only come from an upright bass. It’s got a ticky tacky brushing on the high hat and the snare. It’s got a finger picking noodle that sounds timeless and idyllic and breezy. It’s got a restrained vocal turn by James Skelly, showing a gentleness and wistfulness not seen before.

“And every time I think of Liezah
I break down and I start crying
Although she tore me apart
There’s still a place for that girl in my heart”

It’s a song of heartbreak and heartache and bittersweet memory. And yet, “Liezah” never fails to bring a smile and get my toes a-tapping whenever I hear it.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2000: #5 Belle and Sebastian “Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant”

Belle and Sebastian were never supposed to be anything more than a project, one that recorded and released a bunch of material in a short period and faded away into the night. They definitely weren’t supposed to be a successful indie pop group that amassed a rabid following on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and were still releasing new work more than twenty five years in. They started off along the right track, releasing three albums and four EPs in the span of three years but then something happened that derailed their trajectory. I won’t formulate any theories or hazard any guesses but I will say that the result was the group’s fourth long player and everything that happened afterwards.

“Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant” was my first experience with listening to a new Belle and Sebastian album just after it was released. I had gotten into the Scottish collective after had they released their third album, “The boy with the arab strap”, on suggestion from my university friend Darrell, who said you can’t go wrong with any of their releases, just pick one. I went with the green album cover and worked backwards from there. As it turned out, “Fold your hands child” was also the first of their albums that I didn’t take to right away.*

The fourth album’s title was taken from a piece of graffiti that frontman Stuart Murdoch had found scrawled in a university toilet. The front cover is a photo that he took of Icelandic twins, Gyða and Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir (both from the band Múm), and the back cover is a deconstructed photo of the view from the window of a laundromat he frequented. The music on the album, though, was not all Stuart. Indeed, it furthered the trend first brokered on “The boy with the arab strap” of more collaboration within the group, shared songwriting and vocal duties. The recording sessions were difficult and took longer than previous ones, which Murdoch attributes to the darker tone and more complex arrangements and song structures. Murdoch has said the album reflects perfectly what the band’s life was like at that point in time and changed everything going forward. It was the last one that featured founding bassist Stuart David and the second last to feature Isobel Campbell.

“Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant” still isn’t my favourite album by the group but that doesn’t make it bad at all. In fact, I have grown to appreciate it and it now holds a very special place in my heart. Each of its eleven songs brings back a flood of memories, especially the three I have picked for you to sample.


”The chalet lines”: Talk about dark. Songs don’t get much more depressing than this one, nor can you find opening lines more attention grabbing than: “He raped me in the chalet lines”. Stuart Murdoch’s voice and the soft way he uses it to say those words and of course, the tentative piano notes in the opening, pretty much set the tone and signal this to be a real feel bad story. It was inspired by the experiences of an acquaintance of Murdoch’s at a type of holiday camp where the “chalets” are laid out in a row, the very same type of which was where he met the Icelandic twin sisters that grace the album’s cover during a music festival party. The protagonist was raped during such a party at the camp where she worked and she struggles with feeling different now than her friends, not being understood, not reporting the offence, and worrying that she had gotten pregnant. The minimalism – voice, piano, and plaintive cello – and the imagery (“Her face was just a smear on the pane”) do plenty to keep the two and a half minute dirge from taking a detour into sentimentality.

”The model”: Track two on the album is a real danceable number, the kind where you close your eyes and flail about with abandon and a lack of grace. In this way, it reminds me of my favourite B&S number, the title track off the previous album, and much like that one, the words are a litany, a stream of consciousness, a story within a story within a story. But here, in amongst the harpsichord backbone and flute and horn flourishes, one may find slightly more complexities and melodies and tighter pop sensibilities. On vocals, Murdoch relinquishes total control, allowing Stevie Jackson to voice four of the forty lines, the sixth line of every stanza. This jogs the head a bit, suggesting a different point or interjection, playing with the reliability of the confession. Perhaps it’s not just a simple pop song, then? With this lot, it never is. “But you wouldn’t laugh at all and I wonder what the boy was thinking. The picture was an old collage of something classical, the model with a tragic air.”

”I fought in a war”: My final pick for you is the opening track on the album, a song, in my opinion, which is the one with the closest resemblance to the work on their earlier albums. And given that it was the first song I heard upon my first go through the album, it was instantly recognizable and in this way, feels like the group’s technique of weening its fans from everything that came before. But even here, the subject matter is darker, the tone heavy, a weight on the breezy melody and the bright horn blares. Beware, though, don’t get taken in by the title and lyrics and fall into the open trap left by Murdoch into thinking this a protest song. He has said that it is in fact inspired by a Salinger story, “For Esmé – with love and squalor”, one that I read ages by sadly, don’t exactly remember so I may have to re-read. I imagine though it might be about a lost love, given the metaphorical imagery of the song. “And I reminded myself of the looks you gave when we were getting on, and I bet you’re making shells back home for a steady man to wear round his neck, well it won’t hurt to think of you as if you’re waiting for this letter to arrive because I’ll be here quite a while.” Lovely stuff.

*And from what I’ve read by the critics and the like, I don’t think I was the only one.


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Richard Ashcroft “Alone with everybody”
9. The New Pornographers “Mass romantic”
8. The Cure  “Bloodflowers”
7. The Weakerthans “Left and leaving”
6. The Clientele “Suburban light”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.