It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment Coldplay’s trajectory shifted, skyrocketing into the stratosphere. These are not the four skittish teens who cut their teeth writing raw, soul-searching ballads about pain and alienation. They still exist deep down, but have since grown into brighter, sharper, more hopeful people. Coldplay have become a band defined by their success. The world fell in love with them so hard and fast that they’d be foolish to not just enjoy it now.
Pre-shift – perhaps somewhere after 2008’s Viva La Vida and before Mylo Xyloto in 2011 – the band was mainly praised for those bruising laments about the issues that hurt us most. Today, though, that wouldn’t really make sense: we find them, with ninth album Music of the Spheres on a completely higher plane. Why would you continue to frown and wail about the world once you have, well, completed it?
And so glorious and hopeful lead single ‘Higher Power’ goes somewhere more ambitious as the shimmering synths hurtle through the atmosphere towards something euphoric. That energy grows on ‘Humankind’ as robust synths set up the band’s next major stadium anthem. The bones of Coldplay’s youth are still there, though: Martin’s voice textured and vulnerable; an acoustic guitar happily strumming away; Will Champion’s drums, so giddy and energised as if preparing a trip to space with nothing but the shoes on his feet.
But ‘Music of the Spheres’ still remembers to breathe, too. “I loved you to the moon and back again,” Martin sings on the tender ‘Let Somebody Go’, musing on the burning light of the stars and the pain of sudden, illogical heartbreak. There is a holiness to album standout ‘Human Heart’, too, which understands the fallibility of the only flesh-and-blood tools we have to take care of one another.
Things switch again on the curious, epic manifesto ‘People of the Pride’. Melody-wise, it nods to the driving guitars of 1970s glam rock while lyrically looking towards the future, with its hero “a man who takes his time. From the hands of a cuckoo clock”, another character in the band’s fantastical rostra of storytellers from the likes of ‘Mylo Xyloto’ and ‘Death and All His Friends’. It’s a song which begs for dancing, revolting, marching.
‘Music of the Spheres’ loses its spark briefly when leaning on unimaginative lyrics (“When you love me love me love me, you’re so beautiful” goes the syrupy ‘Biutyful’). ‘My Universe’, a funk-inflected collab with K-Pop giants BTS has underwhelming collaborative vocals with fundamentally awkward results. It recalls the tiresome 2017 ‘Kaleidoscope’ EP, which first flirted with the idea of life beyond our own little planet but got somewhat lost among all the additional voices on the record.
But when ‘Music of the Spheres’ does complete its mission, it’s spellbinding. The orchestral odyssey ‘Coloratura’ might be the most dazzling thing Coldplay have ever done, a sprawling Pink Floyd-esque experiment which pays off infinitely. Yet this album’s pleasure is also in its simplicity: it’s the sound of a supremely confident band, so aware their music now matches the euphoria of, say, a stadium triumph that ‘Infinity Sign’ slyly reworks rudimentary football chant “Olé Olé Olé” into something quite beautiful. It shouldn’t work but it does: epitomising Coldplay’s breathless ascent ever higher. It’s just a thrill to be along for the ride.