October 19, 2002
I don't need to tell you how polarizing Coldplay have become in the 20-plus years they've been in the public eye. It wasn't always this way. Back in the early 2000s, their reputation, at least to me, was more art-rock than pop-rock, even if they were flirting with the pop charts the whole time. In 2002, Coldplay felt more like a throwback to British new wave bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and The Cure than a commercial force in their own right.
In fact, it's hard to peg them into any movement in rock music in the early 2000s. They weren't exactly Britpop, but they more mainstream sounding than Radiohead. And they were a resounding contrast to the harder edges alternative radio found itself swimming in at the time. But time was on Coldplay's side, and it helped that they released a gorgeous album in 2002 that, in my mind, is an all-time classic.
Chris Martin was born in Exeter, England, in 1977, the eldest son of an accountant and a music teacher. At college, he met Jonny Buckland and the two began writing songs together. When Guy Berryman joined the band later on, the trio initially gave themselves the ridiculous name Big Fat Noises. Eventually they rounded out the group with Will Champion on drums and, once they began playing live show, settled on Coldplay as the band name.
The band released a couple EPs in the late 1990s and made the rounds at festivals in the UK before they got to work on their debut album Parachutes, which they recorded over the course of a few months. Parachutes was released in the summer of 2000, and immediately spawned a minor hit in their homeland with the song "Shiver". It took a few months longer for them to crack the United States, but they would make an impact with the song "Yellow".
The video for "Yellow" is one that always seemed to grab my attention whenever I saw it. Martin walks by himself on a beach at sunrise while he sings the song. No other band members appear in the video. The spareness and simplicity to the video seemed so different than what most alternative artists were doing to get on television. It also stands in relief to the driving guitars that make the song worthwhile. It made it all the way to #6 on Billboard's Modern Rock chart, and got enough pop airplay to push it to #48 on the Hot 100.
Despite that, I couldn't really get into the song at the time. Maybe that video was too simple for me, at a time in my life when minimalism had no meaning to me. Or maybe the song was so different than everything else on the radio that I wasn't able to wrap my head around it. Also, Chris Martin's voice does take a minute to get used to. I'm sure there's some people who have never gotten used to it. I eventually came around on "Yellow", due in no small part to it being a staple of alternative playlists for over 20 years. There's not many songs in the time I've been doing this chart that I'd like a mulligan on, but "Yellow" is probably one of them.
One song from Parachutes did manage to crack my top 40; the third single "Trouble" peaked at #33 in the beginning of 2002. That video is the complete opposite of "Yellow", with the whole band roaming a CGI world. The piano riff in the song gives a hint of where the band's sound would evolve toward in the years to come. It's still a pretty reserved song, but there's action to it. That sort of balance is difficult to achieve, and I'd argue Coldplay straddled it as well as any artist for a long time.
The band got to work on recording their second album A Rush of Blood to the Head shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. Unlike other bands who may have been inspired to write a more overtly political record, Coldplay turned inward. Martin said he felt "confused and frightened" after the attacks, but wanted to write music again because "you never know what might happen".
"In My Place" was the first song written for the album, yet almost didn't make the cut. One might argue that the song is the weakest on the album, but that only speaks to how extraordinary the entire record is. The cymbal crash at the beginning feels like a clarion call grabbing your attention before Buckland's guitar hypnotizes you for the remainder. Martin's narrator seems to be trying to move above his place in life, crossing line he shouldn't have crossed. He seems to believe his chance at success is coming; he just has to be patient. "And if you go, if you go/and leave me down here on my own/then I'll wait for you, yeah".
As far as lead singles go, the song is prettier than "Yellow", and feels more like a band with confidence in their sound. I don't think Martin's voice really overshadows his bandmates' instruments, and that's a great strength to the song. The song just feels like a chance to breathe, to take stock of where you are and what you're doing in that moment.
The beginning of the song bears a striking resemblance to the 1990 song "Dreams Burn Down" by British shoegaze pioneers Ride. It probably tracks that the band would've been familiar with shoegaze bands like Ride or fellow pioneers Slowdive, a band who will someday appear in this column. (Their two number one songs are still on my top 40 as of this writing.) I had never heard "Dreams Burn Down" prior to writing this article, and really wasn't too familiar with Ride to this point. That feels like a grave injustice on my part. Especially now that shoegaze seems to be enjoying a major revival in the last couple years. For now though, I'm just lucky to learn that Coldplay may or may not have ripped off this absolute banger.
Like "Yellow", the band opted for simplicity with the video for "In My Place", although this time the entire group gets to appear. The band perform in a stark, empty room, with only a couple people in the background for an audience. It's a great way to let the song, take center stage without it feeling too obvious. My favorite part of the video is when, during the bridge, Martin is talking to the people in the back, and has to run back to the microphone in time to sing the final verses. It's a moment of levity that just feels slightly out of place, but not enough to distract you for the song.
"In My Place" was a huge song in the UK, where it peaked at #2 on that country's chart, their highest peak to that point. It wasn't nearly as successful in the US; it missed the Hot 100, and only peaked at #17 on the alternative chart. Still, the song made enough of an impression on me for me to go out and buy A Rush of Blood to the Head after it was released in August 2002.
I remember listening to the album on the flight to Seattle when my dad and I moved to Washington State at the end of 2002. At that extremely unsettled moment in my life, the album felt calming, like an escape. Maybe it was being in the air that allowed me to make a connection with the album. I don't know, I can't quite describe it. All I know is the album immediately became one of my favorites. And it wasn't done spinning off amazing singles either. We will see Coldplay back in this column soon.
Apparently, the CBS police procedural Cold Case liked to use entire songs at the end of each episode that were relevant to the time periods when the crime being investigated took place. Here "In My Place" soundtracking the end of a 2006 episode of the show.
THE NUMBER TWOS
No Doubt's reggae-adjacent, beach-lounge jam "Underneath It All" peaked at #2 behind "In My Place".