From “bedwetter” indie to festival-headlining, corporate balance-sheet maintaining pop behemoths, Coldplay have travelled a long way. We’ve seen the yearning student band, the Kraftwerk sampling moody rockers, and the Eno disciples, but on the sixth album, Coldplay sound less like a band than a Chris Martin side-project. The music, all synths, drum machines and pianos strips out the surprisingly muscular guitar playing of Jonny Buckland (although ‘Magic’ has a somewhat pretty guitar line, reminiscent of the better moments of the Edge) and the rolling bass lines of Guy Berryman.
It’s the absence of what sounds like a proper drum kit anywhere on this record that is the biggest loss; Will Champion is a particularly good drummer – not the showiest, but subtly powerful. All of that is gone – Paul Epworth and Daniel Green do a bang-up job of producing a great, spare, electro-pop album with nine vocals from Chris Martin, but as an album by Coldplay, this is the culmination of a process that began with X&Y.
There are moments when you could imagine this played in a studio by four bandmates together. ‘True Love’, whilst made up of broad-brush sentiment and lots of by-the-book falsetto, has a somewhat gritty guitar line. ‘Always In My Head’ opens with what sounds like the backing music to a sci-fi film, but there is a hint of tambourine that betrays a human touch to the percussion.
Otherwise, the standout track is another collaboration (following from the Mylo Xyloto grower ‘Princess of China’ with Rihanna), ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ with Avicii, the Swedish house DJ. It’s become so ubiquitous that I heard it today at the end of some TV cricket coverage – it’s also where I can see Chris Martin’s head really being turned towards. It’s the most Coldplay melody here, but whereas there used to be some syncopation, some unpredictability to the rhythms of their earlier work, the big hits of four-to-the-floor strip away the last pretence that this is a band.
It seems that Martin has, in the process of consciously decoupling from Paltrow, written a pretty good break-up album – it’s just a pity that it sounds like he’s decoupled from the rest of his band at the same time.
This post first appeared on Soundblab.