In middle age, as they release their ninth album, Coldplay could play it safe. The quartet already have enough hits in a stellar back catalogue to guarantee stadium status and intermittent Glastonbury headline slots until retirement. But Music of the Spheres suggests they’re not content with being the biggest band in the world. They need to be the centre of the universe too.
The lead single, Higher Power, confirmed those lofty ambitions by being launched with a broadcast to the International Space Station. There are planets on the sleeve and a concept involving music from outer reaches of the galaxy, though in truth the nine songs and three interludes sound very much like Coldplay with the guitars turned down and the synths right up. Perhaps in a bid to placate poor underworked Jonny Buckland, there’s a cocky glam rock riff all over People of the Pride – possibly their loudest ever song – but otherwise the sound is shiny mainstream pop.
Frontman Chris Martin has never placed Coldplay as a rock band, of course. They performed with Beyoncé and Bruno Mars at the Super Bowl, brought Bee Gee Barry Gibb on at Glastonbury and wheeled out Ed Sheeran at a Shepherd’s Bush album launch show just this week. Their biggest recent hit was a collaboration with dance duo The Chainsmokers, and as far back as 2003 Martin wrote a hit single for Birmingham pop star Jamelia. So while there’s no question they’re comfortable working with Swedish hit machine Max Martin as producer and duetting with Selena Gomez on the gentle ballad Let Somebody Go, at this stage it does feel like they’re chasing trends, not starting them. The contribution of Korean superstars BTS to My Universe adds little other than a guarantee of commercial success with the boy band’s rabid global fanbase.
Though there are surprises here, particularly on the 10-minute, semi-orchestral and largely dull finale, Coloratura, Coldplay albums now seem to be following a pattern: a relatively downbeat, unassuming release with no accompanying world tour and lower sales expectations, followed by a Technicolour pop one for the stadiums. There was the glorious Mylo Xyloto, then quiet Ghost Stories, bright melodies on A Head Full of Dreams, then Everyday Life, their least popular album by far. This one’s firmly for the masses again – there’s even a football chant on ∞ – but an unremarkable set of songs seems less likely to light up the dark skies.