Photo Credit: Dave Meyers
Following Coldplay’s discography from its late ’90s beginnings to modern-day is a baffling and frustrating experience. The band was heralded by critics from the outset as rock’s most promising new act; winning two Brit Awards and one Grammy for their debut LP Parachutes, as well as a nomination for the coveted Mercury Prize Award. Listen to songs like “Yellow”, or the criminally under-rated “Amsterdam” (from 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head), and the band’s appeal – both critically and commercially is undeniable – with a tried-and-test ballad formula lifted to new heights by Chris Martin’s angelic vocals.
Beginning with 2005’s X&Y, Coldplay began to abandon their trademark sound in favor of something altogether more commercial. It was a mystifying decision, not just because it led to a marked decline in songwriting quality, but also because Coldplay already had great chart success without falling prey to the tired conventions of the Top 40 (“The Scientist” and “Yellow” remain two of their biggest hits to date).
Nevertheless, Coldplay got the chart success they wanted with this sonic shift, and even if the success of artists like Adele and Lewis Capaldi show that the band could continue to enjoy such success by returning to their old sound, Coldplay has largely remained loyal to the same formula that made songs like “Paradise” and “Something Just Like This” global hits.
Over twenty years have passed since their breakthrough hit “Yellow” was released, however, the band’s hold on hit-maker status has inevitably come under strain. Look no further than the failure of the singles from 2019’s Everyday Life to chart anywhere on the Billboard Hot 100 as evidence of this. With this in mind, Coldplay had two choices going into their new record; to fully – and finally – surrender their hold on Top 40 and put all their focus into making a late-career masterpiece that would win over critics and early fans once again, or to reach for one or two more big hits (even if it meant fully surrendering everything that once made them great).
Turns out they chose the latter. Even by the band’s own standards, Music of the Spheres stands as a particularly craven attempt to top the charts; from the ill-fitting features from big stars like BTS and Selena Gomez, all the way to the Emoji titles of multiple songs on here. Occasionally songs on Music of the Spheres are actively offensive: “Biutyful” sees Chris Martin’s vocals chipmunked as he sings lifelessly about feeling “on top of the world, man.” But for the most part, the songs here are just plain boring; “Higher Power” is a big swing and a miss at Chvrches-style synth-pop, while Selena Gomez-assist “Let Somebody Go” is a painfully-conventional piano ballad featuring the album’s most eye-roll worthy line (“When I called the mathematicians and I asked them to explain // They said love is only equal to the pain”).
If one does manage to get past the lifeless balladeering, the limp electro-pop, the needless interludes, and lyrical clunkers aplenty, the band throws in the album’s only real surprise with the 10-minute closer “Coloratura.” The song’s an epic slow-builder; showcasing experimentations with form and instrumentation previously unseen from the band. Even if Martin’s philosophical musings don’t always stick the landing, there’s no doubting the sheer transcendence when the song crescendos and swells to epic proportions before being reduced to its most hushed and intimate. So unless you’re a fan of soulless pop music, head straight to “Coloratura”: do not pass go, do not collect $200.