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REVIEW: Coldplay – ‘Everyday Life’ (Parlophone)


In a sentence:

A surprising blur of unfamiliar elements, ‘Everyday Life’ represents the first time that Coldplay haven’t jumped on whatever bandwagon might generate the highest revenue for them.

Coldplay need no introduction at this point. Over the past 20 years, they’ve reached a level of success matched only by a handful of artists before them, to the extent whereby, if you’re a resident of the English-speaking Western world, it’s impossible for them to have passed you by. They’ve become a symbol of British culture within the 21st century, and have undoubtedly earned their status as ‘national treasures’. Nevertheless, that’s not to say that everyone likes Coldplay. Their brand of very safe, optimistic, singalong alternative and pop-rock, for which the majority of their catalogue could easily be characterised, has been a source of both adoration and ridicule. Whilst the material that the band produced in the Noughties still largely holds up to scrutiny, the subsequent three albums unfortunately failed to make the same impact. Although Chris Martin and co. continued to churn out huge hit singles, such as ‘Paradise’, ‘Adventure Of A Lifetime’ and ‘Hymn For The Weekend’, and they still have a 100% record regarding #1 albums in the UK, many critics felt that the band’s shift towards a more electropop-oriented style signalled a willingness to merely cash in on the latest musical trends, as opposed to making a sincere artistic statement. This notion was further exacerbated by the band’s tedious collaboration with much-maligned American EDM duo The Chainsmokers for the 2017 single ‘Something Just Like This’. In short, coming into Everyday Life, one would have been forgiven for not having the highest expectations.

How surprised we were, as a result, to find that Coldplay had decided to throw away the formula almost completely this time around, bringing forth an album that marks easily the biggest stylistic shift within the band’s entire discography. Sure, they’d been dropping hints here and there that this was to be something new and fresh, whether they be the fact that Everyday Life would be a double album, their announcement of a concert in Amman, Jordan, their refusal to embark on a world tour for environmental reasons, or the smatterings of Arabic text over the album cover (and even the track listing!). A new kind of energy had reinvigorated the band, and drastically altered their creative outlook.

Upon listening to the album, several things become glaringly obvious. One of them is the sheer volume of guest musicians. Co-writers lend their services for most, if not all, of the key tracks, whilst numerous guest vocalists, producers, choirs, and samples from a range of genres are scattered all over the record. The infusion, and occasional juxtaposition, of such far-reaching musical stylings create sonic textures and timbres that one would never expect to hear from a band that The Independent once described as “the most conventional band on the planet”. Furthermore, for the first time in the band’s history, this album bears a ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Content’ sticker, due to numerous expletives found both within the lyrics and the samples. A prime example of the latter would be the sample of a chilling, real-life altercation between a US police officer and a black citizen in the song ‘Trouble In Town’.

This leads smoothly on to another one of the album’s key features. Whilst Coldplay’s previous effort, 2015’s ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’, was a wholeheartedly jubilant affair, Everyday Life is all but the polar opposite. Several moments on this album explore considerably darker and more introspective territories than the band has ever previously tapped into. Another key example is the extremely poignant piano ballad ‘Daddy’, which conjures the heart-wrenching imagery of a young child pining for the care and attention of an absent father, repeatedly mourning how he is “so far away”, yet this in no way minimises the love he feels towards him.

A final standout feature that defines this album is the refreshing brevity of many of the ideas on display here. Although the record is split into two discs, eight tracks each, the total running length fails to reach 53 minutes, with only 50% of the tracks clocking in at over three minutes. While this somewhat slapdash approach may be a drawback for some Coldplay fans, it undoubtedly keeps the listener on their toes, allowing the band the opportunity to throw as many diverse sounds and styles into the mix as possible. This technique clearly addresses and repudiates one of the primary criticisms that the band has faced in recent years: the fact that they’ve become ‘predictable’. Furthermore, the inclusion of such short songs means that the band can offer fleeting moments of genuine beauty, without running these ideas into the ground or causing them to outstay their welcome. The finest example of this is the utterly stunning ‘Èkó’. A hushed, acoustic guitar-led ballad, the interplay between the fingerpicked guitars and the piano produces a real sense of serenity, harmonising beautifully with the imagery generated by Chris Martin’s poetic descriptions of Africa, and its rivers “perfectly deep and beautifully wide”.

Several other songs also deserve a special mention. The first full-length track of the first disc, ‘Church’, is a fantastic way to kick off proceedings. Opening with a drum beat that recalls fellow British rock legends Radiohead, it develops into a lush, soothing piece of pure art pop. The contribution of Arabic guest vocals by Palestinian singer Nora Shaqur at the end of the song provides a wonderful touch, reinforcing the serene vibe given off by the smooth keyboard notes and the warm bass textures.

The aforementioned ‘Trouble In Town’ is another undeniable highlight, and a perfect testament to the band’s new, politically aware outlook. The song gradually builds from a humble beginning, featuring only piano, vocals and subtle electronic beats, to a rowdy, electric guitar-driven climax, with the gut-wrenching sample forming a bridge between the two phases. Easily the most haunting moment on the record, the song ends with the sound of a heartbeat, which is cut short rather abruptly by the remarkably chirpy, gospel-infused interlude ‘BrokEn’. This transition appears extremely clumsy upon first listen, until the listener realises that the heartbeat continues again at the beginning of the subsequent track, ‘Daddy’. What did seem like an awkward piece of sequencing actually reveals itself to be a highly inventive move on the band’s part, allowing a brief moment of respite between the two most contemplative tracks on the whole album.

Both the longest and most outlandish track here is ‘Arabesque’, where the band can be heard effectively throwing the kitchen sink at the record. It has everything from French-language guest vocals, an extended, avant-garde sax solo, and various musical and non-musical samples, topped off with Chris Martin yelling “Same fucking blood!” over an epic climax. It’s no surprise that this track was chosen to be a single, and one can expect it to be a fan-favourite for years to come.

Music video for ‘Daddy’

The first key moment of the second disc comes in the form of the lead single ‘Orphans’. This distinguishes itself within the context of the album as being far more reminiscent of Coldplay’s previous efforts, and thus more likely to be instantly gratifying for fans on a wide scale. However, whilst that may imply negative connotations, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Whereas on the last few albums, the band were repeating this electronic pop style ad nauseum, until it became barely listenable, the sheer absence of any other tracks within this genre on Everyday Life allows the song to stand upon its own two feet, and be judged purely on its own merits. A simple yet effective slab of pop music, and constructed around a highly upbeat, singalong chorus, ‘Orphans’ benefits greatly from the most subtle of chord changes which coincides with the lyric “with bombs going boom-ba-ba-boom”, before the joyous chorus bounces in once again. The repeated line “I want to know when I can go back and get drunk with my friends” provides a wonderful contrast to the moody introspection of the first disc.

A word must also be said for the final three-song streak of the album, beginning with the instrumental ‘بنى آدم’ (Persian for ‘Children Of Adam’). This track passes through two distinct phases, starting off as a piece of gentle piano music, before mutating into an understated slice of post-rock, complete with high reverb guitars and unusual time signatures. As the piece approaches its end, a snippet of African gospel music segues into ‘Champion Of The World’. Yet the way in which the opening organ notes of this song and the sound of the African gospel music are intertwined, if only for a matter of seconds, somehow produces quite possibly the most mesmerising and stunningly beautiful moment on the entire record, creating an atmosphere that cannot be accurately conveyed with words due to its uniqueness and subtlety, but its impact is nonetheless immense.

As for ‘Champion Of The World’ itself, a tribute to the late Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison, its chiming guitars bring a dream pop-inspired edge to Coldplay’s typical alternative rock sound. The song gradually builds with every verse, with the band adding to the instrumentation one by one, whilst Martin begins by emulating a baritone style before pushing the upper bounds of his vocal range as the track reaches its apex, and despite the lack of an identifiable chorus, this gradual crescendo constitutes the song’s overall appeal. At some point within the final verse, after numerous vocal layers have rushed in to harmonise with Martin, while the chiming guitar riff plays continuously over a backdrop of synthesised strings, one cannot help but wonder: Could this be the finest song on the album?

Music video for ‘Orphans’

Everyday Life is finally brought to a close by the title track, and it’s a veritable tear-jerker. A slow, heartfelt piano ballad, it embodies sadness but with a clear sense of optimism. Darkness with an unmistakable hint of light. Simply put, it’s a perfect album closer.

It’s no secret that Coldplay truly excelled themselves with this release. After a dry run, no-one genuinely expected them to reach the artistic heights that they attained during the previous decade, yet this album has defied all expectation. That’s not to say it’s a flawless album though, as several of the shorter songs, such as the undercooked ‘WOTW / POTP’, the somewhat heavy-handed folk ditty ‘Guns’, and the doo-wop number ‘Cry Cry Cry’, offer very little to the overall product, and may occasionally distract from the more refined moments on here, despite their minimal lengths. Furthermore, one might hesitate before calling this the best album of their career so far, perhaps due to the disjointed nature of the track-listing, or the relative absence of a stone-cold classic akin to ‘Yellow’ or ‘Fix You’.

Nevertheless, Everyday Life is without a shadow of a doubt their boldest and most admirable album to date. It’s the sound of Coldplay making a statement of intent. They’re no longer merely jumping on whichever bandwagon will generate the highest amount of revenue at any given moment, but rather they’re emerging from their creative rut as a band that continues to evolve and challenge the older and newer members of their fanbase alike. (9/10) (George McKenna)

Listen to Everyday Life by Coldplay here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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