A weary voice actor steps into a Hollywood studio soundbooth. Maybe it’s Will Arnett. It’s probably Will Arnett.
Will Arnett sips his coffee, slides his headphones on and speaks into the microphone, addressing his producer: “Alright, Frankie, what are we hawking today? More Reese’s cups?”
“No, Will, we’ve got something new for ya. It’s, it’s … a Coldplay ad.”
Will Arnett closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose.
“Yeah, I know, they got a new record or something” Frankie says. “Let’s try a take. Maybe do it like a ‘90s movie trailer guy. You can even do the LEGO Batman voice!”
“Jesus Christ,” Will Arnett mutters, glancing at his watch. “Okay, let’s do this.”
The tape rolls, he begins.
“Coming this fall: THEY are the most successful pop-rock band of the 21st Century. HE’S produced nearly every superstar of the last 20 years. NOW Coldplay and Max Martin have joined forces to make an album so deliriously anthemic and profoundly generic, it is suitable only for football stadiums and Target electronics sections. Get ready for — Music of the Spheres!”
Before we continue, you shouldn’t feel bad about dunking on Coldplay — you cannot hurt them. It’s like making fun of Jeff Bezos’ cowboy hat. The dude still went to fucking space.
Coldplay’s ninth studio LP, out Friday, similarly aims to ensnare listeners through the glory of celestial travel (or something). According to singer Chris Martin, the new project was partially inspired by Star Wars and hinges on “wondering what musicians are like across the universe.” In May, the band premiered its very Earth-friendly lead single “Higher Power” via live link to real astronauts on the International Space Station. Martin says he hopes to someday perform on the moon.
This all sounds silly because it is, of course. But after the hyper-serious social commentary of 2019’s Everyday Life — the band’s first record in 15 years not to swing for the nosebleeds — they can afford some absurdity, especially during these surreal times.
Propelled by a general sense that both the band and superproducer Max Martin (Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Katy Perry) are playing with house money, Spheres does just what they need it to do: land two or three easily digestible mega-jams to punch up the next concert setlist. On cue, a 2022 global stadium tour was announced on Thursday.
The lead single, “Higher Power,” is perfectly serviceable; another populist-optimist anthem, laden with unobtrusive synth and bass, that may slide seamlessly between “Paradise” and “Sky Full of Stars.” The second, which may become ubiquitous considering it’s personnel, is “My Universe,” a collaboration with K-pop deities BTS. Again, it’s a planet-sized song with an instantly hummable hook. An album track called “Humankind” follows the same maximized blueprint, and could gain some traction.
The rest is, well, the rest. Four of the 12 tracks are interludes or faceless dance instrumentals. The overlong 10-minute closer “Coloratura,” a decent rock ballad with vague nods to Elton John’s “Rocket Man” and/or David Bowie’s “Spaceman,” should’ve been cut in half. “Let Somebody Go” with Selena Gomez is fine but forgettable. The largely a cappella “Human Heart,” with R&B duo We Are King and Jacob Collier, plays as an undercooked Bon Iver tribute. And the crunchy rocker “People of the Pride” is a painfully overt Muse facsimile.
To the band and Martin’s credit, the album in totality sounds terrific, especially on the low end. It’s deliciously rich, with plenty of thump.
But is it a vital contribution to the pop or rock conversation, or even the band’s own catalog? Not particularly. Like pretty much everything Coldplay has released since Mylo Xyloto (2011), if not earlier, there’s just very little anchoring these songs. No sense of purpose, cohesion or emotional reckoning.
They’re all just nebulous rainbow puffs floating in the ether, piercing the atmosphere, and orbiting the Earth forever, like sonic space junk.