Let’s talk about the story of Genesis….the band, not the Old Testament story. When people talk about the English band, they do it in two phases: the first, led by Peter Gabriel, was the theatrical art rock band warping the banal normalities of everyday life into terrifying madness. The second, led by Phil Collins, was a bright and tight pop band that produced wide-reaching anthems of love, global society and self-reflection. Aside from the name, they’re two entirely different bands that are somehow made up of the same people but with opposite musical agendas. Now imagine that story, but in reverse.
That’s where Coldplay is at right now. While they didn’t have the glitzy 80s synthesizers or Collins’ thumping drums at the start of their career, the Brit band did claim fame with soaring anthems about love and introspection. They started in the aftermath of the British indie rebirth of the 90s, but sure enough became full-fledged pop stars (sometimes to their detriment). But over the last ten years, the band has experimented with music beyond U2-esque guitar chords and a piano line. Guy Berryman’s bass lines got funky, Jonny Buckland found his Johnny Marr-inspiration with pluckier guitar parts and drummer Will Champion started to increase the percussion. Frontman Chris Martin started singing about epic journeys of princesses and world culture amped up by more upbeat music. Coldplay have expanded their musical range in a way that the man in the fox’s head and red dress would likely respect. They don’t have their own Selling England By the Pound, but their latest record comes damn close in a lot of ways.
Everyday Life is Coldplay’s eighth record and most ambitious since the world-conquering Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. It’s the band’s first double album, but it’s not out of gluttonous means. The two discs here are eight tracks a piece with only one song crossing the five-minute mark. One of Everyday Life’s admirable qualities is that it gets its big ambitions out at only 53 minutes. The two discs are definitely meant to be heard together (the first being dubbed “Sunrise” and the second being “Sunset”). Disc one is more of an elongated overture for disc two, the former featuring more atmospheric and spacey songs. “Sunrise” is the more experimental of the two discs, especially in terms of its varying styles. There are two different gospel choirs on two different tracks (“BroKen,” “When I Need a Friend”), string arrangements, Middle Eastern rhythm (“Arabesque”), a one-minute acoustic track that sounds like it was recorded on an iPhone camera (“WOTW/POTP”) and audio from racist police officers (“Trouble in Town”). It makes for a more complete and compelling listen than the last two Coldplay releases since the songs flow into each other so well.
Disc two is the more traditional Coldplay record, in only that it has more full songs than instrumentals or brief interludes. There are plenty of piano ballads, but the second disc’s energetic songs (“Guns,” “Orphans”) have more of a booming kick to them. In fact all of the songs have a fleshed-out loudness to them, despite many of them being delicate pieces. The production on “Èkó” and “Old Friends” are so crisp, you can almost hear the fingers slide off the guitar strings as they’re plucked. The title track’s orchestral section almost sounds live, like it’s right in front of the listener. It further enforces how “Sunrise” is the airy overlong overture for the real meat on “Sunset.” “Orphans” feels like a lead single: joyous, bouncy and the bright mission statement that has defined the latter half of Coldplay’s career. The likes of “Cry Cry Cry,” “بنی آدم” and “Champion of the World,” along with most of the album, harken back to Martin’s divorce post-mortem Ghost Stories. There’s plenty of darkness but little bits of light breaking through make for moments of musical beauty.
There are certainly moments of light and dark in Everyday Life. “Trouble in Town” is Martin recounting the atrocities against black people, which is somewhat hard to hear coming from Martin’s sensitive coo and seeing his chiseled face sing lines like, “Because they cut my brother down/Because my sister can’t wear her crown…Because they hung my Brother Brown.” It’s only when the 911 audio comes into play that the song actually becomes effective, where Martin gets him and the band out of the way of the blunt message. There’s plenty more of those on the rest of the record. “Guns” is finger-wagging against the pro-gun crowd, mercifully stripped to being as folksy as possible (“All the kids make pistols with their fingers and their thumbs/Advertise a revolution, arm it when it comes/We’re cooking up the zeros, we’ve been doing all the sums/The judgment of this court is we need more guns”). Martin even pokes fun at his own optimism on “Champion of the World” (“This mountainside is suicide/This dream will never work/Still the sign upon my headstone, write/‘A champion of the world’”).
There’s still that schmaltzy optimism that’s been Coldplay’s bread and butter, but at least the music here is varied enough to make those presentations more believable. The lush strings and backing vocals help “Church” arise beyond dated California sunshine (“And when you’re riding a wave/Oh, won’t you ride that wave to me?/When you’re setting your sail/Oh, can I be your seventh sea?”). The stripped-down organs and chipper background vocals on “Cry Cry Cry” save the charm from the wedding song slow-dance in the chorus (“Don’t want us to hurt each other/Or cause each other pain/Don’t want to fear what we don’t know/ We’re in this together baby”). It all culminates with the album-closing title track, where all Coldplay want is for common decency to be commonplace again (“Cause everyone hurts, everyone cries/Everyone sees the colour in each other’s eyes/Everyone loves, everybody gets their hearts ripped out/Got to keep dancing when the lights go out”).
So lyrically, Coldplay remain the globe-trotting earnest heroes of pop-rock trying to make the world a better place. Even as they stretch their musical taste further and further around the world, Coldplay’s lyrical depth remain simplified to “be good people.” What Everyday Life has boosting its credibility is the most musically diverse album of Coldplay’s career. Its concept is well-executed and the songs are so sonically rich, leagues away from the guys who started with the simplicity of “Yellow.” Hopefully the band can find a greener way to tour, because there’s a wonder of how these songs would be performed live. At the very least, it shows that Coldplay are not getting lazier as they get older. They clearly want to keep pushing their music in different directions. They’re not even in any kind of stereotypical career phase now, let alone one like Genesis. Coldplay have somehow become unpredictable, mercifully avoiding the same mundanity of everyday life.