Sunday, October 17, 2021

Review: Music of the Spheres • Coldplay

If there were ever a plot, Coldplay lost it somewhere in the clouds a while ago. A decade into their career, the band began to feel like a venue for musical self-indulgence. Over the course of the band’s four latest albums, what was a by-the-numbers descendant of U2 became a closer cousin to Maroon 5, though the Adam Levine outfit follows a downward trajectory compared to Coldplay’s unpredictable one. Whatever the catalyst, we received the textured synth-rock album Mylo Xyloto and a Beyoncé collaboration from it, at the very least. (For that, we give thanks.) But as a residual effect, there’s an uncertain feeling about Coldplay’s mission statement. Each record moves the target somewhere unexpected: Dance music, back to alternative rock, Afrobeat, vocoded ambiance… was Beyoncé already mentioned? Their latest effort, Music of the Spheres, certainly does nothing to clear up any misunderstandings: Rather, it shoots their sights into an intergalactic fever dream, aboard a synthpop rocket fueled by pop music super producer Max Martin.

Twenty years ago, the idea that English alternative rock band Coldplay would grab a number-one hit featuring work from a South Korean boy band and Max Martin in 2021 would seem asinine, wouldn’t it? Well, look who’s laughing now, I guess. The slow gravitational pull toward a full pop Coldplay began as early as 2014, and now with the likes of BTS and Selena Gomez in tow, the band both passes the torch onto the next generation of artists and attempts to prove they can still compete in their stadium. When the moments are big, they’re gargantuan: Chris Martin weaves his way around supercharged synth hits on “Higher Power,” “People of the Pride” has some underplayed utility as a lazy, social media era protest song, and even “My Universe” has a great little chant about it. Everything between the tentpoles, though, feels like a scenic roadmap, littered in emoji titles and springy beats, to the next big moment – mostly fulfilling in the moment, yet never as memorable as the album’s few shiniest offerings.

Adorned in a consistent cover of pillowy synthesizers and vague idealist lyrics, Music of the Spheres is the most focused, and maybe even most daring on paper, Coldplay project since 2011’s Mylo Xyloto – but unlike that record, Music of the Spheres suffers from lukewarm execution. While Max Martin’s production work is both textured and alluring, the album would fall nearly anonymous if it weren’t for Chris Martin’s unmistakable tenor delivery. The band’s songwriting has dulled from the days of “Fix You” and “Yellow” as they seek to unite, not resonate with, their listeners: Aside from something like warm homecoming dance ballad “Let Somebody Go,” which feels just slightly more genuine than most here, the record operates on the idea that Coldplay fans experience love and relationships on only a universally superficial level. Given that nothing on Music of the Spheres sounds outright offensive, though, Max Martin’s melodic mathematics were crunched just fine: It just appears that sometimes, Coldplay was left out of the calculations.

Music of the Spheres is available now under Parlophone Records.

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