​Coldplay's 'Music of the Spheres' Offers No Evidence of Intelligent Life

BY Alex HudsonPublished Oct 15, 2021


Coldplay have long had a charming sense of ambition, as their shameless pretentious streak has resulted in Brian Eno collaborations, a concept album about a fictional Orwellian society, and a 16-track double LP that changed genres with practically every song. Even when they miss — they haven't had a properly good album in 14 years — it's nice to see these British blokes continue to shoot for the stars.

The charm has lost its lustre on Music of the Spheres. While the album has all the signifiers of Coldplay's signature grandeur — a cosmic concept, ambient interlude tracks, a 10-minute closer — it's also produced by one-man hit factory Max Martin in a clear ploy for the chart dominance that eluded them on 2018's instantly forgotten Everyday Life. It seems that they're trying to have it both ways: to be arty while also scoring Top 40 hits, two things that don't go together often in today's algorithm-driven pop music industry.

The combination of Max Martin and Coldplay ought to be out of this world, considering how the former has co-written and produced many of the biggest smashes of the past 25 years. It's almost staggering, then, how cheap and forgettable Music of the Spheres sounds. It's impossible to decide which part of "People of the Pride" is grosser: the introductory fanfare that sounds like a freeware brass patch, or the sub-Black Keys blooze rawk riffage that follows. "Human Heart" (a.k.a. "♥," the red heart emoji) is a numbingly boring a cappella hymn, which totally squanders the usually excellent guest vocals of We Are KING. The stomp-clap synth folk of "Humankind" sounds like the generic music for an Olympic Games broadcast, and it all culminates in laughable teenage poetry: "Capable of kindness / So they call us humankind." A moment of silence for the person, somewhere on Earth, currently getting that lyric tattooed in cursive on their ribcage. "Infinity Sign" sets a reverberated "olé, olé, olé" soccer chant to a disco beat, which is just as bad in practice as it sounds in theory. The limp Selena Gomez duet "Let Somebody Go" passes through one ear and out the other.

Music from the Spheres only succeeds when Coldplay manage to take advantage of Max Martin's Max Martin-ness. "Higher Power" is a fairly rote piece of '80s synth pop, but it's ascendent chorus taps into the unselfconscious earnestness that singer Chris Martin does so well. "You've got a higher power / And you're really someone I wanna know" says almost nothing, but amidst glittering sci-fi synth stabs and arpeggiators ripped straight outta "Take On Me," Martin at least does a good job of pretending he means it. Similarly, the BTS collab "My Universe" is a towering synth-funk anthem that seems scientifically designed to be a mega smash. Never mind the yucky bluesy run Chris Martin hits in the chorus — hearing the British singer harmonize with Korean rapping is a rare moment of excitement in an album that rarely achieves liftoff.

Coldplay are still singing for the heavens, just like they always have. But if extraterrestrials were to encounter Music of the Spheres being beamed across the universe, they wouldn't find much evidence of intelligent life.

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