Fire Note Says: The eighth album from Coldplay benefits from world music influences and a scattershot approach to incorporating a variety of old school musical influences.
Album Review: Dropping late in the year, Colplay’s eighth album became an unexpected contender on a lot of folk’s year in lists, due larger to the fresh musicality and diverse musical influences that they explore on this distinctive double album. Over their 20 year career, Coldplay grew from their modest indie “Yellow” roots to album’s designed to fill stadiums, mimicking at times U2 and other acts of that caliber. But from the start, most of the attention fell on the lead vocalist front man/piano playing Chris Martin, no doubt due to his profile marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow from 2003 thru 2016.
Now to be honest, I’ve never trusted bands where they were viewed primarily as anonymous support for the lead singer, it’s a pet peeve, I know, but name one other member in Matchbox Twenty besides Rob Thomas, or someone in Maroon 5 besides Adam Levine. Right away, I wanna write those groups off as artificial bands. Mick always had his Keith, and who doesn’t know that Charlie Watts is on the drums for the Stones. Bono has his Edge, Michael Stipe had Peter Buck and Mike Mills. But when Coldplay was called up to play the Super Bowl half-time show, they didn’t get a true solo spot like U2, Tom Petty, Prince or Bruce Springsteen, no, the powers that be threw in Beyonce and Bruno Marrs, and who was down front at the end with these other two popular singers, just Martin.
While it’s a given by now that Martin is identifiable as the primary person in the creative endeavor that is Coldplay, Everyday Life steps far enough away from polished and stadium-pop focused albums like Viva La Vida Or Death and All His Friends and Mylo Xyloto, as if to invite us to reconsider the band as they broaden their sound to include world music influences on the one hand, while sharing a quieter, more intimate sound on the other. While they’ve divided the two separate discs, calling the first “Sunrise” and the second “Sunset,” on both sides the band seems to move back and forth from their more familiar big pop/rock sounding productions and the almost lo-fi musical explorations that suggest a more genuine and reflective experimentalism.
“Sunrise” opens with a two and a half minute orchestrated selection before they fall into the more expected Coldplay sound in “Church,” with enhancements from a Pakistani Sufi qawwali singer, and Norwegian songwriting team Stargate. “Trouble In Town” starts off as a quiet ballad, not unlike other things we’ve heard from Martin, but it’s words about “blood on the beat” are matched by a audio clip of police brutality, while the music takes on an African world beat complete with a choir that follows a guitar solo Jonny Buckland. “BrokEn” follows with an understated Gospel music vibe, with Martin’s voice and piano matched by a small church choir dominated by female singers. Martin is even quieter, more reflective in the solo piano ballad, “Daddy,” which pulls back the curtain on a child’s longing for their father’s attention, perhaps after a family’s divorce. While folk have often commented on the tendency in Martin’s lyrics to speak in broad generalizations, there’s an intimacy and human vulnerability here that suggests greater artistic depth, as the child asks “please stay.”
For “WOTW/POTP,” we continue in that laid back tone, here with acoustic guitar that recalls Jamaican songwriter Bob Marley, with Martin at ease while birds singing competes for our attention. We return to a fuller, bigger band sound on “Arabesque,” a jazzy number complete with a lengthy sax solo that kinda rocks, while relying on a African rhythm that samples the monumental artist, Fela Kuti, while including vocals from his son and grandson, Femi and Made. Then the side closes with a churchy chant, “When I Need a Friend,” which is sung with a full choir, echoing the familiar tones of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and never falls into the temptation to take this simple spiritual song of longing for friendship in any other direction than that.
“Guns” kicks of the “Sunset” disc, with an acoustic guitar driven groove rocker that feels like something you might expect from Dave Matthews, and while it wants to say how “crazy” our culture’s love affair with these weapons of mass destruction is, Martin can’t seem to find a way to make a poignant, direct political statement that has congruence. “Orphans,” the album’s most promising pop rock single, again with a strong afrobeat shuffle and a bassline that hints at Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” plus a dominant choir that supersedes Martin’s lead vocal as the song grows in energy and strength. And then as quickly as the album takes on a bolder pop feel, “Eko” offers a chromatic waterfall of sound back into something quieter and gentle, with Martin sharing harmony vocals with female singer, Tiwa Savage.”
Then in a similar move in the quieter direction in the previous disc, “Cry Cry Cry,” is an intimate splash of primal 50’s piano based rock & roll, with a falsetto lead vocal, that interpolates an old his, “Cry, Baby,” by Berns and Ragovoy. “Old Friends” is an acoustic folk/pop song, in the tradition of James Taylor, which is followed by a Martin piano solo with an Arabic name that is translated, “Bani Adam” which relates to the Persian poem quoted on the song’s second half with refers to the first humans of creation. Two more conventional Coldplay productions close out the album, the light pop of “Champion of the World,” and the album’s title track. While Coldplay have experimented with other musical sounds in the past, often imitating bands they wanted to be considered alongside of, there’s a uniquely curious quality about the somewhat reserved and thoughtful explorations found here on Everyday Life. All of which work together to make it the most interesting Coldplay album since I was first infected with that omnipresent ear worm, “Yellow,” which still tends to bring a smile to my face.
Key Tracks: “Guns” / “Orphans” / “Everyday Life”
Artists With Similar Fire: U2 / The Police / R.E.M.
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb