'Music of the Spheres': a departure for Coldplay

You can say what you want about Coldplay, but one thing cannot be disputed: they sure know how to be thematic. With eras more distinct and dedicated than Taylor Swift’s, the band has moved from stark minimalism (“A Rush of Blood to the Head”) to robotic futurism (“X&Y”) all the way back to the French Revolution (“Viva La Vida”). After following their ultra-pop rainbow “A Head Full of Dreams” with “Everyday Life,” which can only be described as earthy and awake, Coldplay takes a steep departure from, well, Earth. Their newly released “Music of the Spheres” is exactly what it sounds like; an album about space. Or maybe an album in space.

Maybe Chris Martin has always had an obsession with the heavenly bodies. In the words of “Pitchfork” editor Ryan Dombal, “Here he goes again, looking at the stars, seeing how they shine.” Though the stars and space have entered Coldplay’s lyricism from time to time over the years, the strongest reminiscence of “Music of the Spheres” is certainly “Ghost Stories,” a nine-song ode to utter darkness. A lot of this new album is a reminiscence of what Coldplay has been and of what they want to be.

Cheesy optimism has always been Coldplay’s insignia, but this album goes above and beyond even “Mylo Xyloto” in that respect, all the way down to the songs titled with emojis. Yes, I said titled with emojis. Not even the cool ones, either. The red heart, the planet, Earth with the U.S. out front, the glitter symbol, and an infinity symbol. The glaring and horrible design choices don’t stop here, with the title of one song spelled “Biutyful” for no apparent reason. With the exception of “Infinite” and “Heart,” the emoji songs are mostly 20-30 second sound bits (one being almost entirely composed of applause, which sounds conceited even for a globally successful band). “Heart” features We Are KING and Jacob Collier, while “Infinite” is sparse on vocals, though it samples chordal patterns directly from “A Head Full of Dreams” and “Amazing Day.” With artists like Lord Huron and Lady Gaga adopting the 20-second interlude track and artists everywhere messing with capitalization and character choices in song titles, it's hard to gauge whether “Music of the Spheres” is a true expression of Coldplay’s creative interests or merely an exaggerated reflection of pre-existing trends in the music world.

Part of my somewhat naive equivocation here comes from the opinion that much of Coldplay’s older music, even the cornier stuff, was delivered with a sense of genuineness that is somewhat lacking in “Music of the Spheres.” Borderline ridiculous motivational ballads like “Up&Up” were always accompanied by songs with more grounding, like “Everglow” in the case of “A Head Full of Dreams.” Here, the only respite comes in the form of “Coloratura,” Coldplay’s first-ever 10 minute piece, and a beautifully composed wandering of the mind. The band only ever shows off their gift for instrumentation every once in a while, like in “Clocks” or “بنی آدم” (Bani Adam), so from that perspective “Coloratura” is somewhat of a gem. But lyrically, structurally, and just in comparison to other Coldplay classics, “Coloratura” seems to have it all, climaxing with a gut-wrenching guitar solo that brings a listener back to their deeper work, like “Death and All His Friends” off of “Viva La Vida.” In all, there's a sense here that all the ideas have been left on the table, a sense of satisfaction that closes out the album and redeems it all at once.

Besides my obvious bias towards “Coloratura” and against the emoji songs, I’d say the album has just a bit left to offer, especially if you’re a fan of the motivational pop side of Coldplay. “People of the Pride” and “Let Somebody Go” are outliers somewhat, with Selena Gomez contributing vocals on the slow and morose “Let Somebody Go.” “People of the Pride" is a classic Coldplay call to revolution (What kind? Against whom? Nobody knows) reminiscent of “Viva La Vida” in general, or “42” specifically. Other than that, “Higher Power” and “Humankind,” while generally bland, pack some serious 80s retro-pop punch. In fact, one could argue that the verse of “Higher Power” plagiarizes directly from Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 classic “Dancing in the Dark.” Both songs also hold strong ties to former albums, namely “A Head Full of Dreams” and “Ghost Stories” (which, in all honesty, seem to have mated and birthed “Music of the Spheres"). “Biutyful,” too, calls to mind “Army of One.” Besides its horrific altered vocals at the beginning — think a singing five-year-old — the sentimentality of the song makes it a standout on the album. The biggest hit on “Music of the Spheres," though, is “My Universe,” a pop hit with a sick bassline and a pop-culture-supported feature from K-pop band BTS. It's an adrenaline rush of a song, bursting forth using the same fuel as some of the other more energetic pieces it accompanies. Though it certainly has its flaws, “Music of the Spheres” is certainly nothing new coming from Coldplay. A breath of fresh, synthesizer air after the acoustic dryness of “Everyday Life,” it reminds us that Coldplay has been around for a long time and is definitely not going anywhere anytime soon.