Crafted with one eye firmly on the Spotify stats, the band’s synths-heavy ninth album features BTS and Selena Gomez amid a muddled cosmic concept
In 2004, Chris Martin wrote a brief essay about U2 for Rolling Stone magazine. They were, he said, “the only band whose entire catalogue I know by heart”, although you didn’t need him to tell you that Coldplay were a band created in U2’s image. Like U2, who spent their early years being sneered at by the post-punk cognoscenti, Coldplay were never fashionable. As with U2, that quickly ceased to matter: huge, biggest-band-in the-world success being a fairly powerful riposte to tastemakers crowing that you’re a bit naff. And like U2, Coldplay only really make sense on a large scale. You don’t have to be a Coldplay fan to think they’re exceptionally good at headlining Glastonbury, just as even Bono’s loudest naysayer might be forced to concede that they’re uniquely skilled at playing stadiums. Grand gestures and vast audiences are a large part of both bands’ raison d’être.
In recent years, that’s started to look like a problem. Coldplay’s last album, 2019’s Everyday Life, was their only one in the last 20 years not to go multi-platinum. In America it sold barely a tenth of its predecessor, A Head Full of Dreams. It dabbled in African music, doo-wop and gospel and included what appeared to be an unfinished demo – yet it was far from the kind of up-yours gesture to which artists who have tired of adulation are often prone. It still clearly wanted to be loved by a mass audience. There was a lot of straightforward Coldplay-ing among the experiments, including Orphans, a song so keen to attract thousands of people bellowing along that it borrowed the “woo-woo” vocals from Sympathy for the Devil.