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In a recent interview, Chris Martin referred to songs as “little drops of unknowable wonder”. After a brief foray into murkier subject matter for 2019’s Everyday Life, the Coldplay frontman is firmly back in the wonder business. The big-hearted arena-fillers have cranked their trademark pop-and-awe back up to 11 for new album Music of The Spheres.
The title is a nod to ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who believed that the planets ring out notes of vibration based on their orbit and distance to each other, creating space harmonies. Unfortunately, humans lack the ability to hear this natural wonder. Surely the idea must have resonated with Martin during lockdown, when we were all orbiting at strange distances from each other, missing the chords of conversation.
But it turns out he was, in fact, inspired by Star Wars. He was watching a scene – perhaps while sipping one of his ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cannabis drinks – when he began a-musing: “I wonder what musicians are like across the universe?” This led to him imagining an alternate solar system with “lots of different places and creatures and stuff”, he told the Zach Sang Show. He then tried to write as though he were an alien, explaining: “It’s a very freeing thing to take yourself out of Coldplay and just think, ‘OK, I’m not even human, what does music sound like?’”
This appears to have been the point at which Martin’s imagination thrusters failed. As anyone who’s heard the singles will already know, Alien Coldplay sound almost exactly like Earthling Coldplay, with a little added pop-oomph from uber-producer Max Martin. Music of the Spheres is far less experimentally extra-terrestrial than Everyday Life (which ended with lines about Martin “flying on my bicycle / heading upwards from the Earth.”).
The album’s lyrical positivity and melodic predictability should fly well in the current climate. There are big, pulsing, major chord stompers like “Higher Power” and “My Universe”, the latter featuring K-pop stars BTS. The Korean-language verses and rap add a little global texture as the synths swell and stutter along. There’s an unchallenging Eighties slow dance in “Let Somebody Go”, on which Martin and Selena Gomez croon together of lost love over soft keys and a click track beat, cymbals hissing like airlocks closing. It’s forgettable schmaltzy, but will still get those light sabers waving in the air at gigs. We Are King’s twin sisters Amber and Paris Strother add warm vocal layers to the tender pulse of the a cappella “Human Heart”. “Boys don’t cry/ Boys keep it all inside,” sings Martin. “Girls can make believe/ Girls wear it all on their sleeve,” reply the Strothers.
There’s a nod to glam rock via Muse on “People of The Pride”, where the usually PG-rated Martin gets cross about the kind of man who “walks around like he owns the f***ing lot”. But the singer’s anger at the challenges facing the planet inevitably give way to cheesy imagery about heaven acting as “a fire escape”. And it’s not long before he reverts to type on “Biuytful”, where his ethereally pitched-up vocals add some tang to what is otherwise a bland gush of a love song. The band’s communal, singalong appeal comes into play on the instrumental “Infinity Sign”, with its sample of a football crowd chant. Then it’s back to Earth with “Coloratura”, a track steered by Martin singing in a grazed lower register. There’s nothing here to startle the staff at mission control as his basic declaration – “In this crazy world, I just want you” – parachutes through an ozone layer of pretty flutes that eventually give way to a strummed waltz and a ripping electric guitar solo.
Music of The Spheres isn’t Coldplay at their Viva la Vida finest, even if their undeniably upbeat attitude remains hard to resist. The Pythagoreans believed that music purified the soul. This album offers a more superficial spiritual shower. A fleeting invigoration.