On “Trouble In Town,” the third track on Coldplay’s 2019 LP Everyday Life, the band places a rather disturbing sound clip of a police officer rudely interrogating someone — this comes after Chris Martin’s solemn lament on unequal power structures and how they always “add more police,” and before a full-band psychedelic freak out of an outro, which is not necessarily what you’d associate with Coldplay.
This was not an anomaly on the record; Everyday Life featured Coldplay at their most experimental, their most vital, and playing the riskiest music they’ve made in years. But what’s more, is that it sounded like Coldplay had changed, that over a span of 20 years as a band, they were almost more weathered and rugged.
Fast forward to two years later; Coldplay have released their ninth studio album Music of the Spheres today (October 15th), and unfortunately, little-to-none of that change is present.
Coldplay have really outdone themselves on Music of the Spheres, and not necessarily in a good way — they’ve never made music this overwhelmingly general, with so few risks and so little nuance. The album — which was produced by ultimate pop whisperer Max Martin — is covered in a plastic sheen, filled with generic statements about love and humanity, and completely oblivious to its own plight.
Music of the Spheres is supposedly a concept album: Martin was reportedly inspired by the fictional cantina band in Star Wars and wondered “what musicians are like across the universe.” If this was their jumping off point, frankly, none of that comes across.
Each song on this album (except “People of the Pride,” which we’ll get to) is undeniably Coldplay, with little experimentation and as many big, gigantic “para-para-paradise”-style choruses as possible. Since their 2011 album Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay have been on a quest to make stadium-sized pop music that reaches towards the largest emotions, and while it has worked well in certain cases, it’s getting harder to tolerate this baseline level of effort.
That’s not to say there aren’t enjoyable moments on Music of the Spheres: the BTS-assisted “My Universe” is certainly generic, but the Max Martin touch (along with an absolutely killer bassline that seems to swallow everything up in its path) helps to elevate it. BTS also sound really delightful on “My Universe,” and they manage to bring a little bit of personality to a record that seems to revolve solely around Martin’s “global good boy” ethos.
Lead single “Higher Power” has its moments, particularly in its driving drums and bass, but the song is nearly ruined in the first few lines when Martin says “I’m like a broken record…/ drocer nekorb a ekil mi.” Yes, that’s just the same line backwards, everyone signed off on this, and he could have written a new lyric, but no, it’s drocer nekorb a ekil mi. Okay!
Shallow lines populate this album in droves: on “Humankind,” which really hammers in how much Max Martin and Coldplay love the ’80s, Martin sings, “We’re only human/ But we’re capable of kindness/ So they call us Humankind.” These are supposed to be lyrics to a Coldplay song, not a wholesome meme that your aunt shares on Facebook.
The Selena Gomez-featuring “Let Somebody Go” is fine, but did we need another song with the words, “If you love someone, let them know/ go”? What does this heavily repeated, seemingly empty statement have to do with the sci-fi theme, different planets and musicians, a vast cosmos of unexplored territory?
All of this leads to “People of the Pride.” Opening with a ferocious guitar line that splits the difference between Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People” and any song by Muse in the last 15 years, Martin sings about rising up against a nameless dictator (you know the one) so that everyone can be free (in the most general sense).
It’s a would-be populist anthem about revolution, and it may be Coldplay’s hardest rock song yet, but it was clearly written for the sole purposes of landing a Samsung Galaxy commercial or other such sync, and it yields very empty and confusing results.
Everyday Life featured Coldplay working through issues they saw together, as a band, without resorting to cheap buzzwords and low-hanging fruit. But “People of the Pride” shows how little they’ve learned from Everyday Life’s sonic success.
And this is, perhaps, because of money: Everyday Life was Coldplay’s worst-selling LP to date, and the course correction back to the formula that dominated 2015’s Head Full of Dreams makes sense for Coldplay’s global ambitions.
Then again, you still can’t fault Coldplay for being this positive, and this unity-driven, in the midst of a global pandemic. “My Universe” and “Higher Power” mean nothing, but they signify so much beyond unconditional love: letting yourself feel these big emotions and indulging in them, because that’s what makes us human. But older Coldplay songs “Fix You,” “Yellow,” and “The Scientist” represented these ideas too, and they were done with so much more tact and subtlety.
The album ends with “Coloratura,” which, believe it or not, is the most sci-fi adjacent song on the record. Coldplay finally decide to break their own arbitrary pop rules on “Coloratura,” and they really flesh out what this record is supposed to sound like: sprawling, odd, and unique. It’s the song that most resembles the free spirit of Everyday Life and how much they’re capable of pulling off in a 10 minute, sprawling odyssey. Even more, it shows how resistant Coldplay are to becoming Maroon 5. If the rest of Music of the Spheres is any indication, then unfortunately, that’s where they’re headed.
Catch Coldplay on tour; tickets are available via Ticketmaster.
Essential Tracks: “My Universe,” “Higher Power,” “Coloratura”
Music of the Spheres Artwork: