Coldplay’s ninth studio album “Music of the Spheres” acts as a paean of sorts to space rock, the hypnotic, often distorted sound most commonly associated with Pink Floyd. But this isn’t “Dark Side of the Moon” or “The Wall.” To be candid, “Music of the Spheres” is an unholy mess of a record, confusing and conflating generic impulses towards synth-pop, ambient sound, and electronica, among other stylistic pretensions.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some winning songs on Coldplay’s new LP. Tunes like “Humankind” soar in the very same arena-friendly fashion that we’ve come to expect from Chris Martin and the boys over the years. Brimming with unquenched optimism, “Humankind” stands with Coldplay’s finest anthems — songs like “A Sky Full of Stars” and “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall.”
I can already imagine the laser-driven pyrotechnics that will accompany their performance of “Humankind” during next summer’s stadium tour. The same could be said for the band’s latest chart-topper “My Universe,” featuring K-Pop sensation BTS.
And then there’s “Biutyful,” which should have come off like the worse kind of schmaltz, only to turn out to be genuinely tender and charming. Singing along, duet-style, with a falsetto, vocoder-rendered version of himself, Martin gently coos, “when you love me, love me, love me” to some space alien other, and all is right with the world.
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Similar levels of majesty are in evidence on “Coloratura,” the 10-minute opus that closes out the LP. The song’s chorus even conjures up the sound, if not the structure of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage,” the penultimate “Dark Side of the Moon” number. It’s a knowing nod, to be sure, from Coldplay to one of their principal influences. But what “Coloratura” really points out, aside from the band’s boundless capacity for mimicry, is their lack of any salient vision. “Coloratura” and “Humankind” are truly wonderful songs. I’m just not sure that they belong on the same LP.
To put it more simply: Coldplay’s lost their way. “Music of the Spheres” sent me running back to their early masterworks — albums like “A Rush of Blood to the Head” and “Viva la Vida.” For those LPs, Martin and the band employed their incredible talent for lyrics and melody to more powerful effect, grappling not just with the buoyancy of the light, but the desperation that lives inside the darkness of the soul.
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It’s all there in “Clocks,” arguably their most consummate live number. In the song, Coldplay’s front man suffers mightily at the hands of the “confusion that never stops / Closing walls and ticking clocks.” But even as he yearns for relief in the eyes of his beloved, he can’t help reckoning with his own culpability in the crux of his life: “Am I a part of the cure / Or am I part of the disease?”
So yeah, songs like “Biutyful” have a welcome place in our musical solar system. But I’ll take the searching “Clocks” over “when you love me, love me, love me” any day. So hear me, Chris Martin: I miss the “Clocks” guy a lot. Back when you were wondering about your own vexed place in the world — when you were considering humankind’s penchant for good and for ill — there was a lot more intellectual gravity in the band’s work. That was some music that the universe once and truly needs.
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