Over the course of their 20-year career, Coldplay has morphed from Britain’s alternative rock staple into the latest representation of pop music’s new trajectory. On their latest studio album, Music of the Spheres, released Friday, Oct. 15 (and indubitably overshadowed by the reemergence of Adele), the band fully embraces the synth-pop they’ve dabbled with on past albums, such as 2015’s A Head Full of Dreams. Following suit in a string of concept albums, the band has this time embraced outer space, the inspiration for which lead singer Chris Martin has attributed to the Star Wars franchise.
Despite beginning with one of three unnecessary instrumental interludes, the album kicks into high gear on lead single “Higher Power,” a high-octane example of modern pop’s often eighties-inspired, melody-driven sound. The album then moves to another highlight, “Humankind.” The transcendent melody of its chorus will remain in your head hours after your first listen.
Heading into the middle of the album, however, Music of the Spheres rapidly loses speed following two unnecessary collaborations that show the band making ill use of their song partners — while Selena Gomez sounds great on the ballad “Let Somebody Go,” she seems replaceable as a female counterpart to Chris Martin’s interplay on an albeit pleasant pop duet. This continues in We Are KING’s presence on the next track, “Human Heart,” on which fellow collaborator Jacob Collier, the latest beloved pioneer of experimentation (check out his work if you have yet to do so), remains unheard beyond the dense multi-track backup harmonies often used in his recordings.
With recent pioneer in pop music production Max Martin overseeing the album this time around, Music of the Spheres is glazed with a sonic sheen, something many bands have yet to achieve. Throughout the album, it is unclear where Coldplay ends and Martin begins, which leads to a mixed bag of songs — some are a clear amplification of Coldplay’s sound and others are evident attempts of the band’s goal to appeal to younger audiences (see the TikTok-ready vocalizer on the saccharine “Biutyful”). That said, the band does not let Martin’s presence disrupt the integrity of their sound, which is admirable considering the failed efforts of other bands to do the same, like on Maroon 5’s Jordi.
Martin’s production techniques allow for the single-ready tracks that kick off the album to impact the listener much more than had this sonic collaboration not occurred. Indeed, only this Swedish pop phenom would be capable of overseeing the convergence of two of the world’s biggest bands on “My Universe.” Recently reaching the top of the charts in the U.S., “My Universe,” a collaboration with Korean boy band BTS, is the album’s brightest moment, though my place as a closeted BTS fan may squander my judgement. The song maximizes what both bands do best, as Coldplay’s energetic songwriting merges with BTS’s unique charisma.
“My Universe” is an example of the band’s attempt to achieve Chris Martin’s proposed concept for the album, tying the complexity and authenticity of human relationships to the universe. While it’s an interesting pitch, it seems irrelevant to most of the album’s material beyond the surface explored on “My Universe.” Following cloying lines like “I loved you to the moon and back again,” the album seems to carry a sense of superficial weight heading into its final track.
The connection between the cosmos and love is a constant message throughout the album, but the band never fully uncovers what it wants this to mean until the album’s closing track. “Coloratura,” a 10-minute long final track, shows Coldplay at their best and seems to serve as the starting point for the band’s conceptual mission to outer space. It is a stunning ballad full of intense imagery, atmospheric synthesizers and dramatic guitars that at long last successfully sets up the intended connection between the cosmos and love. “Coloratura” may instantly remind one of “Yellow,” Coldplay’s first hit from their debut. That said, this is a band that has evolved beyond their alt-rock origins into one capable of shooting for the pop stratosphere — and may their seamless evolution remain their greatest strength.
PJ Brown is a Freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].