“Just because I’m losing,” Chris Martin once sang, “doesn’t mean I’m lost.”
A platitude to end all platitudes, this line is a prime example of the familiar arena-rock territory Coldplay has prowled so successfully for nearly 20 years. The soliloquy framing and vague but relatable message are both present on “Lost” from 2008’s “Viva la Vida,” as is the expectation that listeners will forgive the somewhat reductive nature of Martin’s lyrics in favor his falsetto’s cathartic powers. The results? Big songs about (mostly) sad things that you can safely listen to with your mom, courtesy of one of the most successful rock bands in the world.
Despite Martin’s prior assurances, the lads of Coldplay do indeed seem lost on the band’s eighth album, “Everyday Life.” Following in the footsteps of 2014’s sullen, sparse “Ghost Stories” and the colorful yet tame approach employed on 2015’s “A Head Full of Dreams,” no one was really sure what to expect when newspaper ads appeared in October announcing the arrival of a new record.
Martin and his bandmates — bassist Guy Berryman, guitarist Jonny Buckland, and drummer Will Champion — have never concerned themselves with the backlash that comes from being unabashedly sincere. Cynicism has never suited Coldplay, so over the years they’ve instead leaned fully into their penchant for grandeur. From donning costumes inspired by the French Revolution for the “Viva la Vida” tour to the aching reassurance that things will be okay offered by past hits like “Fix You,” the band has long found success by embracing the idea that largesse can sometimes be a sufficient substitute for depth.
A similar conceit underscores “Everyday Life,” a double album that revels in experimentation, despite clocking in at just over 50 minutes. Broken into two halves — rather cloyingly titled “Sunrise” and “Sunset” — Coldplay’s latest record finds the band collaborating with choirs, incorporating audio from a police encounter, and relying on an uneven backbeat of world music in hopes it will make it all congeal.
On “BrokEn,” Martin dabbles in gospel as he and a choir joyously implore the light above to shine down on them. Beyond the inexplicable stylization of the track’s title, the song also feels a bit like empty calories. Beloved by fans for their willingness to go over-the-top, Coldplay’s moment in church is thus perplexingly subdued.
Conversely, “Arabesque” is a bold departure from the band’s usual aesthetic, a saxophone-indebted dose of swagger that brings Coldplay as close to modern jazz as they’re likely ever to get. It’s one of the record’s few highlights, along with “Orphans.” The song embraces a familiar formula for the band, with melancholy slowly giving way to euphoria — this time with help from a youth chorus. The cut is but the latest example of Coldplay’s consistent yet uncanny ability to craft irresistibly catchy tunes that are built to be belted out by massive crowds. With their penchant for penning feel-good fodder, it’s thus perplexing that Martin is so doggedly insistent on proving he can write deep thinkers too.
Case in point: “Trouble in Town,” which finds Martin lamenting racial turmoil and police brutality over a hushed piano before audio of disgraced Philadelphia police officer Philip Nace harassing a civilian kicks the track into a maelstrom of guitar from Buckley. “Everything is getting strange,” Martin observes, providing a woefully euphemistic assessment of an exceptionally dire situation. The absence of a deeper message is a recurring issue for “Everyday Life.”
Coldplay is at their best when they’re making no attempt to justify their bombast. There is no cerebral barrier between our ears and the transcendent climax of a song like “Clocks.” We’ve all known what it is to feel despair and to search for the strength to conquer it, so the song’s message is immediate and subsequently powerful. On “Everyday Life,” these wires of communication are often twisted as they’re forced through prisms of current events and social issues that, while indisputably important and worthy of inclusion, sometimes come across as obligatory or out of place.
Taken in its entirety, “Everyday Life” is guilty of the same offense, offering brief, non-offensive tastes of numerous exotic fare without adding any new ingredients to the recipes. Coldplay has never needed excessive substance to make its music work, but by trying so voraciously to prove they have some, they’ve inadvertently put their greatest shortcoming on full display.
The result is an album that fulfills the requisite Coldplay requirements — be it plumes of falsetto, odes to brooding despair or decadent displays of jubilation — but ultimately fails to justify its own necessity.