I rank, according to Spotify, in the top 0.01 percent of all Coldplay listeners. I therefore feel quite well-qualified to inform you that the ninth Coldplay studio album, “Music of the Spheres,” is a massive disappointment.
Released in October 2021, the promotional effort for “Music of the Spheres” brought the full weight of the band’s considerable financial resources to bear in order to pave the way for the industry stalwart to lumbar back into the spotlight. The pre-release marketing threw around so much cash that, while in Dublin this fall, I noticed a number of digital billboards had been erected outside of high traffic pubs with the sole purpose of trumpeting Coldplay’s triumphant return. Their own powers aside, the band also called upon, presumably at eye-watering expense, the immensely popular K-pop group BTS. As far as stabs at relevance go, they don’t come much better funded or more carefully calculated than this.
The product that emerged from all this sound and fury is, however, much less remarkable. Alternatively plasticy and inept, “Music of the Spheres” is fun, but has little to offer in the way of genuine creative energy. Something vaguely resembling a concept album, “Music of the Spheres” muses clumsily about love and human nature while, at least ostensibly, taking a grand tour of a fictional solar system. Little of this conceptual ambitiousness shines through either musically or lyrically, however. The former, while broadly uninspired, is mostly inoffensive.
The “hard rock” backing of “People of the Pride” sounds like a modern U2 song remixed as background music for a truck commercial. Meanwhile, the synthesized vocals that accompany lead vocalist Chris Martin on “Biutyful” make the track sounds like a duet between him and an auto-tuned Sesame Street character.
Lyrically however, the album fails its baseline objective of being frictionless, crowd-pleasing pop and veers into the grating. At first, the mellow organ chords — which open the Selena Gomez duet “Let Somebody Go” — swept me away to the halcyon days of 2005’s maudlin, yet deeply touching, “X&Y.” My nostalgia was quickly shattered, however, when Gomez crooned, “we called the mathematicians and we asked them to explain, they said love is only equal to the pain,” a couplet so cringe-inducing that any self-respecting emo highschooler would surely have scribbled it out of their diary in embarrassment. Although Martin’s lyrics have never really been particularly deft or clever, there is an undeniable charm in their relatably, clumsy grasping at the grandness of human emotion.
Grief, loneliness, and a longing for home, sweep over a person’s heart and move them in ways infinitely more profound than can be captured in words. When Martin is at his best, he speaks to the universal desire to express this profundity with an earnestness and sincerity that most would blush at. Although the BTS collaboration, “My Universe,” is fun, catchy, and sees Martin match the youthful exuberance of the much younger, much hipper act, it lacks the sincere striving at something greater that, successful or not, has animated Coldplay’s most compelling moments.
In a built-in piece of commentary accompanying the album on Spotify, the band laments “a lot of people talk about how they’d rather hear us doing the kind of music we did 20 years ago but we’ve done that and those albums exist for people to listen to.” While it’s true enough that Coldplay had little reason to make an album that sounds like they did 20 years ago, did they have to make one that sounds like this?
2/5 Big Oles