The term “EP” may officially stand for Extended Play, but it’s more of an Expectant Pause or a stopgap release for an artist who’s marking time, waiting for the muse or a sense of direction to strike. Coldplay’s five-song “Kaleidoscope” arrived Friday (July 14) as a belated “companion piece” to 2015’s “A Head Full of Dreams,” and seems very much a stopgap, despite frontman Chris Martin’s hemmed-and-hawed 2016 comments to Zane Lowe saying “I’d be surprised if there was another conventional Coldplay album.” This teaser skirts the question of whether a proper TBD follow-up full-length will have them returning to their old rock-band ways or fully accepting the recent embrace of the EDM-pop world. For now, they’ll still have it both ways, thank you very much.
Maybe even more than placating impatient fans with a modest dose of new material, “Kaleidoscope” services the timely purpose of giving Coldplay a chance to put their hit collaboration with the Chainsmokers, “Something Just Like This,” on one of their own releases. This live recording, subtitled “Tokyo Remix,” effectively replicates the smash original with added Japanese applause and singing along. When the video of the studio version was released in February, it broke a one-day YouTube record and has since racked up a half-billion views, so you can understand why Coldplay would prefer the Chainsmokers not bogart that joint.
“Something Just Like This” is the silliest song on “Kaleidoscope” — you could say dumbest, too, but that seems a little strong for a piece of bro-baiting this innocuous. Fortunately, there are other life signs along the way to reassure the old-timer fan base that Coldplay has a future beyond being a “feature” on somebody else’s project or even dragging a bevy of Top 40 favorites onto their own.
The EP’s opening track, “All I Can Think About You,” stands as the best thing they’ve done in quite a few years, not just because it’s the most traditionally rock track on the set, with its sinewy bass, pretty piano, and slow, old-school rim shots. It also nicely encapsulates mixed emotions, somewhere between the woe-is-me balladry of “Ghost Stories” and gee-whiz positivity of “Head Full of Dreams.” “Chaos giving orders, everything is upside down,” sings Martin, capturing (sort of) the international mood of the moment, before things get more grandiose a little less than three minutes in. A listener might wish the whole track stayed as downbeat as it starts, but if begrudging Coldplay their anthemic intentions is pretty much begrudging Coldplay entirely.
They don’t stay in that traditional four-piece mode for long. The second track, “Miracles (Something Special),” has Will Champion trading in his sticks again for drum programming — we should get used to that — and offers the obligatory inter-genre guest feature from rapper Big Sean. It sounds terrific for all that, too, even if you may be inclined to take the lyric, in which Martin recalls his progressive dad extolling Mohammed, Gandhi, Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Amelia Earhart as example-setting heroes, with a hyper-inspirational grain of salt. “A L I E N S,” a parable about refugees, benefits the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, and it also benefits from the novelty of an odd time signature that keeps you as much on your toes as the fleeing title figures.
If it’s the mellow gold of “Yellow” that you crave, though, there’s the closing “Hypnotized,” which circles back around to the opening track’s promotion romantic idealism as a cure for “the news” as well as “the blues.” More than any single genre or style — “Kaleidoscope” makes it quite clear that they’re still malleable on that — Chris Martin is consciously coupling himself with an unrelenting sense of the upbeat. For the moment, at least, even in the midst of what he himself alludes to as a dystopia, Martin remains rock’s sunniest Brit.