Album Review: Music of the Spheres // Coldplay

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Do Coldplay have a typical sound these days? Well, Chris Martin and co. are out to prove that they are not the same band as twenty years’ ago, as he admitted on the record’s online ‘storyline’. The four-piece wanted to underline that they were willing to experiment and collaborate with absolutely anyone – hence the features of BTS (‘My Universe’), Selena Gomez (‘Let Somebody Go’), WE ARE KING and Jacob Collier (‘Human Heart’), and the (overwhelming) influence of producer Max Martin. The Swedish producer was credited by Chris Martin as essentially becoming a fifth member of their band (rather like another Martin’s contribution – George – to the Fab Four).

Yet, unlike The Beatles’ swashbuckling determination to go from musical theatre to sort-of-inventing heavy metal, Coldplay have turned so far in one direction that Music Of The Spheres lacks any staying power in a hodgepodge of uninspiring autotune, excessive synths and drum machines. 

Take ‘Biutyful’, inserted in the middle of the record. First off, what’s with the insane level of auto tune and pitch modifiers during the vocals of the track’s first two verses; I get that it’s supposed to sound like an “alien voice”, and that Chris Martin is adamant at keeping the identity of the singer under wraps, but it doesn’t work. When the familiar, dusky vocals of Martin return, the track is decent. It’s a shame, because the lyrics seem to reflect on the consequences of climate change (“All of us are done for/ And we live in a beautiful world”) – yet, the first two verses are near-impossible to comprehend. 

The following track, their BTS collaboration ‘My Universe’, demonstrates that Coldplay have not learnt from their dire (but commercially successful) collaboration with The Chainsmokers, ‘Something Just Like This’; it’s a mediocre dance-pop track which attemots to mix the best of K-pop with the best of British pop-rock. Instead, it’s just a reformatted, cut-and-paste job of ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ (or indeed the entire Head Full of Dreams record), but with some Korean rapping in the middle. 

‘Higher Power’ is a track primed for Wembley Stadium (where they play three nights in August); the bouncing correspondence between the bass and vocals early in the track is excellent, and there’s a sense of typical Coldplay anticipation towards the chorus and the climax of the song (see previously ‘A Sky Full of Stars’, ‘Fix You’). ‘People of The Pride’ is an oddly placed track in the context of the LP, speaking out against populism (“there’s a man who think he’s god”) – it’s a latter-day Coldplay sequel to ‘Politik’, but with an immense sprinkling of The 2nd Law-era Muse but with more synths. 

As for those tracks which work well – there’s only a handful. ‘Humankind’ is very ABBA/Ed Sheeran-influenced, but the combination of the explosive synths and riffing acoustic guitars delights. This is the most typical Coldplay track on the record, and it comes almost as a relief; sure, it’s a familiar Chris Martin schtick (“I know that we’re only Humankind”, reflects on his mistakes in love), which could could be produced by an AI provided with all of the band’s previous work , but they’re comforting in this messy record. 

‘Let Somebody Go’ is reminiscent of Ghost Stories-era tracks such as ‘Magic’ and ‘Ink’, where Selena Gomez  takes on the role of Rihanna in Mylo Xyloto’s ‘Princess of China’ as the record’s female feature. The soothing piano ballad benefits from Gomez’s exquisite, love-struck vocals; there’s chemistry between the duo which could be explored at greater length. 

 Finally, of the many instrumental-dominated tracks on the record, ‘Infinity Station’ is the best; Jon Hopkins is clearly present to rescue our ears from too much Max Martin, and his deep electronica understanding is a good release. There’s a football chant paired with zinging arpeggios and more relaxed chords, before guitars and keys come into the mix. The Warehouse Project will most likely never book Coldplay to perform, but this track wouldn’t be lost amongst a line-up of ambient electro. 

I could commend Chris Martin’s ambition to collaborate with every chart-hitting zeitgeist under the sun and determination to stretch sonic boundaries; yet, instead of escaping into a cosmic world of wonder, I felt like I was landing at too many planets, too many interstellar destinations, to understand what the record truly means. 

Previously, Coldplay had stuck to a single musical ethos and honed in on it  – Ghost Stories explored a more electronica and EDM-influenced style of pop-rock, Everyday Life was born out of a desire to work with more world musical styles (afrobeat, jazz-fusion, Arabic rock), but they had their own distinct message. Music of The Spheres never gives you a chance to receive the message, if there is one, that is – apart from aiming for more mass-pop hits. 

Words by Matthew Prudham


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