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Music of the Spheres


Oct 29, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Coldplay’s ninth album, Music of the Spheres, is their most baffling.

For one thing, they claim it’s a concept album. See the album cover? It’s the geography of a fictional solar system called “The Spheres.” See the 12 planets, moons, and singular nebula? Notice that there are 12 tracks on the album? You can probably guess where this is going. Each celestial body represents a song. Each is given its own name, language, and little description that appears on Spotify. Example: collaborative single with South Korean boy band BTS “My Universe” gets tethered to the “effervescent” planet “Epiphane,” where its inhabitants speak “Spheric”.

What does any of that mean? Who knows? The explicit text of the songs themselves devote next to no time actually exploring their planetary tie-ins. It’s a concept album that fundamentally refuses to engage with its own premise. Instead, the band doubles down on lyrical clichés about love and arena-friendly electropop. It’s hard to believe any intellectual thought went into tying a water planet called Calypso (where their official language is “Aquamarine” for chrissake) to a godawful he-sings-she-sings-they-both-sing breakup track featuring Selena Gomez (of all people). On “Let Somebody Go,” she actually sings this line: “When I called the mathematicians and I asked them to explain/They said love is only equal to the pain.” What the hell does that even mean? Why does this song sound like a cheesy ’90s movie soundtrack single? And why does she sound so bored?

Or take the previously mentioned BTS collaboration, “My Universe.” No doubt this will be the breakout hit this album is remembered for, if only because of BTS’ insane relevance in the modern pop scene. It’s what could be called stadium pop: an anthemic orgasm of faux-funk and synths with a nauseating sing-along chorus: “You are my universe/And I just want to put you first.” BTS is the best part of the track by the way, if only because their Korean rap verse breaks up the monotony of the repetitive instrumental.

Frontman Chris Martin was never known as a brilliant songwriter, but his lyrics were never this vapid either. Other single “Higher Power” (planet: “Kaotica,” language: “Kaotican,” description: “the trash planet”) tries to inspire people to find their inner power…or something. It honestly sounds like they’ve gone from diluting Radiohead to amplifying Hillsong United or one of those other “How Great is Our God” Christian-contemporary groups.

“Humankind” (planet: “Echo,” language: “Mirror Text,” description: “the planet of duality) follows “Higher Power” both sequentially and musically, with an utterly baffling chorus “I know, I know, I know/we’re only human/But from another planet/still they call us humankind.” For an album that supposedly wants to explore what music would be like in another corner of the universe, the word “human” is used very often. When not making half-assed assessments of gender roles like “Boys don’t cry/Boys keep it all inside” and “Girls can make-believe/Girls wear it on their sleeve,” the song visually stylized as a heart emoji (Planet: “Supersolis,” Language: “Supersolar,” Description: “the fire planet”) is making direct references to the narrator’s “human heart.” So does this take place in another galaxy or not? Is the native sentient population of the so-called fire planet just plain-ole human beings? Is this secretly an advertisement for Ancient Aliens?

Perhaps the most baffling song on the whole album is “Biutyful” (planet: “Floris,” language: “Bloom,” description: “the plant planet), where Martin sings a duet with an alien (brings back the human being question, don’t it?). The instrumental is, true to form, a mix of bland and repetitive, and borderline pretty. But the pitched up alien voice (perhaps Martin’s own?) is comically silly, approaching and then exceeding annoying during the repeated “when you love me, love me, love me” sections.

Coldplay has always been a pop band in one form or another, but their deep dive into the absolute-lowest-common-denominator variety might be explained through their collaboration with noted hit-making producer Max Martin. If this Swede’s name doesn’t ring a bell, his biggest hits probably will: namely “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears, multiple hits by Katy Perry including “California Gurls” and “Roar,” multiple hits from Taylor Swift including “Bad Blood” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” and even recent Grammy snub “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd. In a 2000 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said “I’m a perfectionist. The producer should decide what kind of music is being made, what it’s going to sound like—all of it, the why, when and how.” It’s hard to imagine that he exerted a similar dictatorial control over the Music of the Spheres sessions—Coldplay aren’t teen pop stars to be molded but rather talented hit-making professionals in their own right—but he is amongst the wall of songwriters credited on the album. His presence is certainly felt.

Aside from a few inoffensive ambient interlude tracks, there are precisely two songs worth recognizing for their positive qualities. The first is Viva La Vida leftover “People of the Pride” (planet: Ultra, language: “Voltik,” description: “the storm planet”). An out of place product of a different time, its jumpy guitar riff clearly apes Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” but at the very least provides some much needed energy. It’s also telling that a D-tier Viva la Vida reject jam is still more noteworthy than just about anything else here.

The second is the 10-minute prog-rock closer “Coloratura” (planet: “Coloratura,” language: “Coloraturan,” description: “the afterlife”), a grand, multi-section orchestral tour-de-force that reminds us what these guys are capable when they really go for it. What begins as a piano-ballad slowly morphs through a swell of strings and a well-placed electric guitar solo (hello Jonny Buckland, nice to finally hear you) into this album’s salvation. Is it a bit too melodramatic? Sure. Is it a bit too long? It’s the longest song they’ve ever released. It’s also the best song they’ve released in more than a decade.

Which is why it’s all just so baffling. How does a band, on the least musically ambitious album of their career, release their most ambitious song? More to the point: how does a band of polished, veteran musicians working with one of the best-selling producers of all time make something this dreadful? Unlike what some reactionaries might have you believe, Coldplay isn’t a terrible band; they’re not even close to the level of pop hackery exhibited by bands such as Maroon 5 or, even worse, Train. They’re capable of good work. Defenders can point to their first few albums for prestige (specifically A Rush of Blood to the Head, a genuinely good album that contains the wonderful “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face”) and explain away any of their more recent misfires as difficulty adjusting with the times. Stick around for 20 years and there will be some downs with the ups. But that’s an insufficient explanation for how Music of the Spheres ended up this horrid. (

Author rating: 3/10

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