I don’t know why I ever doubt Coldplay. Well, alright, I know specifically why I was doubting Music of the Spheres, the band’s ninth studio album. It was extremely easy to find reasons to think Music of the Spheres would suck before it released. Max Martin was the producer, Coldplay decided to team up with BTS for an easy hit with little effort, and Parlaphone was actually trying to advertise the album instead of burying it like Everyday Life. There were many reasons to be a cynic and see this album as one last attempt by Coldplay to reclaim relevancy, and I fell into the trap myself! I ordered the limited edition Infinity Station CD and it was stuck in order fulfillment for a week before I asked customer support to send it over. And, as always, the band didn’t let me down.
Music of the Spheres is Coldplay going back to the pop heights and fantastical, alien concepts of Mylo Xyloto and A Head Full of Dreams. They’ve been in a pattern of “extreme airy pop” and “relatively grounded music” since Viva La Vida. After Everyday Life comes a concept album about three bands in space, Coldplay, BTS, and “Electric Six” fighting against a soulless evil empire that’s trying to drain the galaxy of music in order to make them all work. Or something like that. If you think Coldplay’s done this before, you’re absolutely correct–Mylo Xyloto was a concept album about the exact same thing. It doesn’t really matter though, since the album mostly focuses on tuning each individual song into an earworm, and it does a great job at that.
Just like Mylo Xyloto, the album begins with an instrumental prior to the first real track. Okay, there is a robotic voice that says “Music of the Spheres” but that’s it. Then comes Higher Power, which was the first single off the album. I liked it on first listen, then didn’t really like it for a couple of months, but started liking it more the more I heard it. It’s just fun. Also, just like how Moses Martin did the backing beat on Orphans, Apple Martin provides the vocals that kick off the song when she counts down “Three Two One”. It also has this extremely awesome video of the hired aliens dancing through South Korea that I’ve embedded below.
Still waiting to see an unofficial dance video. Ambiguous Dance Company was hired by Coldplay to do it. They’re a South Korean dance troupe which should’ve tipped off to the world what Coldplay had in store with My Universe, but we’ll get there when we get there. Safe to say that Everyday Life was Coldplay’s Middle Eastern album, and Music of the Spheres is Coldplay’s South Korean album.
Right after Higher Power is Humankind, probably my favorite track off the album. It has a classic Wild Cub intro that builds synths, guitars, and drums before transitioning into Charlie Brown off of Mylo Xyloto. It also ends with the couplet “We’re only human/but we’re capable of kindness/so they call us humankind”–this is the cleverest lyric in the album, which tells you all you need to know about how dire the lyrics are. Regardless, the sound of Coldplay is always what matters more to me than their lyrics, and Humankind, just like Higher Power, is a joy to listen to.
As if to give the listener a break from the back to back adrenaline rush of Higher Power and Humankind is another instrumental titled Alien Choir. Not much to say. It transitions into Let Somebody Go featuring, of all people, Selena Gomez. It’s this album’s version of Fun from A Head Full of Dreams, a ballad about a bittersweet breakup featuring a random pop star you haven’t thought about for a couple of years (it was Tove Lo on Fun). Let Somebody Go takes a bit to get going, and features perhaps the stupidest lyrics in the album with “when I called the mathematicians/and asked them to explain/they said love is only equal to the pain”. Still, it has a nice ending where you can hear Chris and Selena “ooh”ing and musically sighing as piano swells, and you can just picture them doing their respective parts alone in front of a window as rain is falling outside.
Human Heart returns to the Gospel sound of When I Need A Friend from Everyday Life. This time, Jacob Collier and We Are King feature as they all croon and harmonize about how we all just try to hide our emotions but gosh darn it we’re human and still feel things. I… think it’s pretty boring, though We Are King’s vocals are quite beautiful. It’s not bad, but not interesting.
Thankfully, People of the Pride completely washes out what you’ve just heard. Based off an old Viva La Vida demo of a song called The Man Who Swears, the track has turned from an angry piano-based caricature to an angry guitar-based caricature with lyrics and sound that would fit right into a Muse album. It is the only song on the album that has not previously been done by Coldplay before. If it was just an angry guitar, it’d have fit in with A Rush of Blood to the Head, but the filter on Martin’s voice gives it an extra edge that nothing prior has had from the gents. And that energy and rawness (well, as raw as an extremely overproduced song by Max Martin can be) breaks through the absolutely hilarious lyrics about the evil overlord that is terrorizing these spheres by being “a man who walks around” and “takes his time from his homemade cuckoo clock”. It is closest to Major Minus in lyrical content and overall sound, I guess, but separates itself regardless of this comparison.
Up next is Biutyful, once again featuring Coldplay’s favorite hyperactive 27 year old Jacob Collier. I like this song’s lyrics the most for its constant homages to past Coldplay songs. “I hope they name you a rocket and take you for a ride for free” is a reference to X Marks the Spot from A Head Full of Dreams, “Summer sun after the rain… something for the pain” is very close to Up & Up’s couplet, “And I feel like a river, finally arrived at sea” is a deliberate happy ending for the speaker from Lost who left what happened at every river they tried to cross ambiguous. If you haven’t noticed, I have not at all talked about the song itself because it is also quite a unique sound. Not just the simple instrumentation, but Jacob Collier’s extreme high-pitched autotune voice make Biutyful sound a bit like from another planet… until the final line of the chorus being “on top of the world” lets that premise down. C’mon, Coldplay! Are you human, or are you
dancer alien? I also get the way they sing “When you love me/love me/love me” stuck in my head easily. Pretty great!
Music of the Spheres II is the last short intro track on the album. It has some alien saying “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Music of the Spheres. Remember, everyone is an alien somewhere” backwards. Ever since A L I E N S off the Kaleidoscope in 2017, that final line has been Coldplay’s message to the world. Everyday Life tried to say it very directly. Here, the band uses a bit of trickery to get the message across again. I think it’s a great message. We are all human, after all.
My Universe is where the album climaxes in story, sound, and popularity. It hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 96 countries and achieved a “Billboard All-Kill” which means it defeated all five members of the Billboard squad within 30 seconds. Just like Something Just Like This with the Chainsmokers, all those cynical “Coldplay only did it for the money” takes were completely vindicated with this track.
However… Coldplay, and specifically Chris Martin, genuinely wanted to make this track. Not to be blasted back into relevancy, but because they wanted to make this song. Go back to Sky Full of Stars, co-produced with Avicii, and see all the quotes about how much Martin loved working with Avicii. Or with the Chainsmokers. Or especially with Jacob Collier recently. Coldplay is big enough to be able to do these collaborations and Martin is sincere enough to want to do them for musical reasons.
As for the track itself, it’s a very fun pop song that barrages the listener with constant stop-starts, changes in language, and a surprising instrumental burst at the end that you’d expect from some mid-2000s Eurotrash rather than from two of the biggest bands ever that are famous for their vocals. I think it’s a great track. My only complaint is that SUGA’s bridge should’ve been the final verse and Jung Kook’s pre-chorus with Martin and Jimin should’ve switched with it. SUGA just gets me so hyped for the explosion of the chorus that it’s a tiny let-down to hear another verse before it. But, overall, great track.
Infinity Sign made me very mad at Pitchfork. The reviewer there called it an insipid techno song that was only made to be FIFA menu music. I’ll admit that’s a great joke, but it’s also completely missing the point. The vocals to the first half of the song are provided by the South American crowds at Coldplay concerts who Chris always gets chanting “Olé”. It’s the concept behind Music from the Spheres–creatures across languages connecting via song–in practice. The second half of lyrics is Spiritus Sanctum repeated over and over, meaning the “Holy Ghost” of God which is commonly depicted as a dove. And, of course, doves are yet another old Coldplay symbol, most likely referring to the ones in Ghost Stories’ Fly On. In short, the reviewer was wrong about Infinity Sign being a shallow, vapid techno track. It holds tons of meaning to Coldplay.
Finally, the album closes with Coloratura, a ten-minute, self-described “slow burning tune” that sounds like Moving to Mars from Mylo Xyloto’s B-sides got stretched out. It’s got some very pretty instrumentation once Martin stops listing off things he saw on astronomy headlines, but is also my pick for weakest long Coldplay song. It doesn’t have the universal (heh) pathos and catchy hook of Up & Up, or the emotional core of Everything’s Not Lost from Parachutes. It’s down there with Hypnotised off the Kaleidoscope EP for overstaying its welcome. It isn’t unenjoyable to listen to, but not something I’ll come back to like Up & Up or Everything’s Not Lost.
And, just like that, the album is over. 42 minutes, with 10 of them spent on Coloratura, another 2 spent on intros, and one 4 minute song that is a meaningful but not that exciting instrumental. You’ll see that throughout this album is a lot of references to prior Coldplay songs, and I think that’s ultimately what makes Music of the Spheres the band’s worst album since Parachutes. Every song is good to great, don’t get me wrong, but very little of it is unique. Again, want to be very clear, this album is one of the nine best albums ever released. It just happens to be closer to ninth than first. The half hour of pop energy that is at the core of Music of the Spheres is awesome. There’s some real standout tracks like My Universe, Humankind, and People of the Pride, but it didn’t hook me as quickly as Mylo Xyloto nor A Head Full of Dreams. As I continue to listen to it while playing Super Mario Strikers, it’ll sound better and better, and I recommend you all do the same.