“They are hungry to do something else,” Brian Eno said of his hopes for Coldplay. “And they will. I’m sure they’ll turn out to be a great band.” That was back in 2009, back when the band had pushed past their beginnings as a sentimental Radiohead cover band, and reached with outstretched hand toward U2-style arena rock pretensions. Regardless of what you think about their music, it would be hard to ignore that the best of it—”Clocks,” “Yellow,” Viva La Vida—had already been released by the time Eno made his comments. They made one more record with Eno, 2010’s Mylo Xyloto—which had its rousing moments, like the much-better-than-its-title “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall”—before making an extremely unnecessary turn toward EDM with 2014’s Ghost Stories, and announcing their retirement from studio albums after the underwhelming Adventure of a Lifetime.
So it goes. Not every band becomes great, even if they have the founder of ambient music cheering them on. Even so, Chris Martin and company may have a few great songs left in them, as proved by “A L I E N S”—a new collaboration with Eno off their upcoming Kaleidoscope EP. The skittering percussion and swirling electronics that open up the song are completely dissimilar from the EDM components they picked up on the way to their regrettable successful Chainsmokers collaboration; the spooky tones permeating the spaces in between Martin’s indefatigably earnest vocals sound like background music from an X-Files episode. The song is constantly in motion, as all the elements pulse and hum in the same direction. It’s cluttered, but not distracting.
Martin’s lyrics, which address the refugee crisis, lean hard on the maudlin side, which is not an unfamiliar space for the band to be. (“Tell your leader,” he speak-sings on the bridge. “Sir or ma’am / We come in peace / We mean no harm.”) They’re not very good, but they’re not the point. Instead, the music is as pleasant and intriguing as some of Eno’s own ambient music—enough to convince you that they might have a good album left in them, if they ever come out of semi-retirement. First, they have to lose the Chainsmokers’ phone numbers.