It’s 2016. Lights are flashing. People are cheering. There are 75,000 people in one space and their hearts are beating as one. We’re at Wembley. Coldplay look out at the crowd at the end of one of their shows of the A Head Full of Dreams Tour. I can’t think of anything but the way the beat is echoing in my bones through the stadium floor below me. It’s wrapping up. Chris Martin is thanking us for travelling out tonight, thanking us for coming despite "all the shit you have to take for liking Coldplay". There’s a laugh. It’s the end of a great evening and I can’t wait for another album, so I can go through it all over again.
"I can't wait for another album, so I can go through it all again..."
Five years and two albums later, that feeling has been restored with the release of Music of the Spheres. I have missed being part of a crowd, but Spheres feels like a symphony of a pre-pandemic world. Created throughout lockdowns and darkness, the relentless upbeat and earnest tone of the album reaches out for a brighter future. Listening to the lead singles, ‘Higher Power’ and ‘My Universe’, there is an infectious positivity buzzing in the air.
Like 2011’s Mylo Xyloto, Spheres features bright colours and alien languages across its marketing. Coldplay have been playing around with space and celestial bodies for a long time, with the wider story of the album surrounding the planetary system of the Spheres: each song corresponds to a different planet, culture and story.
"Each song corresponds to a different planet, culture and story..."
The whole album follows in the footsteps of their “technicolor predecessors”, A Head Full of Dreams and Mylo Xyloto. While that’s thrilling to me - someone who grew up on these albums and whose first concert was the AHFOD tour - I can see where the novelty can grow thin for those who enjoyed the rock sound from their first albums. The lyrics - often joked about for being cheesy and even nonsensical - are not exactly high art in Spheres, either. The album as a whole perhaps doesn’t have the same substance I have seen in the past, and though there are definite stand-outs for me, none of them hit in quite the same way as classics like ‘Yellow’ and ‘Viva La Vida’. But I also don’t think that devalues the entire concept here. With the release of this album, the band noted how people would “rather hear us doing the kind of music we did 20 years ago.” They’ve got a response for that as they evolve their sound with their ninth album. “We’ve done that and those albums exist for people to listen to. We don’t feel like we have any constraints upon what we can and cannot do.” We’re not going to get another Parachutes, or another X&Y. We’re going to get whatever idea they’ve moved onto next, and in this era it’s flashy pop. If you don’t like their current sound, wait a few years and it will have evolved again.
I understand the nostalgia people feel for their early work, but I feel that the timing of this album doesn’t lend itself to a smaller scale. We’re (hopefully) coming to the end of two years of isolation and darkness and if they want to take a more whimsical approach to their music, I’m not one to judge. The singles released ahead of the album were bright, energetic and exactly what I needed to keep a spring in my step as we head into the dark winter months. They remind me of seeing thousands of wristbands glowing neon, and huge colourful sets that span a whole stadium. As they build up to their next tour, I can see why they’d go for an album like this compared to the melancholy tone of Ghost Stories or Everyday Life.
The twelve songs on the album fall into three categories. There are reflective instrumentals that convey the wide expanse of the space environment they’ve designed. There are painfully earnest songs about love and loss. There are the radio-friendly tunes they released ahead of the album - solid crowd-pleasers whose choruses will fly around your head until Christmas.
"There are painfully earnest songs about love and loss..."
For those who wish they could return to the early days, two of the songs were even written for prior albums before being reworked into Spheres. ‘People of the Pride’ is a high energy, bass-driven rock song, adapted from an unfinished Viva La Vida piece, and it shows. To me it feels like a return to the sound that defined early Coldplay, and after being lulled into a false sense of security by the calming ‘❤️’ that precedes it on the track list, it shocks you back to that period. While it’s a great song to me, I can absolutely see why it wasn’t picked as an initial single to promote the album with. The tone of the song doesn’t gel with the rest of the album at all - and this contrast has been hastily written in with the story that this song emanates from the ‘storm planet.’ Another reworked song is ‘Biutyful’ which, outside of the horrifically cutesy spelling, is actually a pretty great song. This was written for Everyday Life but slots brilliantly into Spheres, with the highly-processed, alien vocals fitting perfectly with the album concept of planetary cultures colliding.
The highlight of the album, for me, comes at the end. ‘Coloratura’ is the longest song the band has ever made, and is a perfect journey through the planets they’ve introduced us to. It's meandering, reflective and the perfect place to end the album. Its first two minutes are like quiet meditation, and as the vocals kick in we go on a tour of naming planets and stars, feeling like we could really be floating past them. In an album with star-powered collaborations and energetic pop beats, it’s this finale that stuck with me long after hearing it. ‘Coloratura’ is the culmination of all the times the band have experimented with instrumentals, and the perfect end of an epic journey through space.
"It's meandering, reflective and the perfect place to end the album..."
Coldplay might not be seen as the coolest band in the world as they’ve shifted further into the pop sound, but exploring Spheres felt like an out-of-this-world experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It gets me excited to feel like I can once again stand in a crowd of thousands singing along to the music that meant so much to me growing up. It’s not a perfect album by any means, but it’s feel-good and uplifting: which right now is pretty much exactly what we need. And if you need me, I’ll be busy refreshing the tickets for the next tour.