Coldplay: Everyday Life review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week

(Parlophone)
The band’s new double album mixes more of their melodically watertight stadium pop with dabblings in the genres they are least suited to dabble in

The internal psychology of rock bands is a tricky thing for outsiders to fathom but, 21 years on from their debut single, it’s pretty clear Coldplay are driven by two often conflicting impulses. The first is to be the biggest band in the world, a desire that was evident from the start in their amenable, uncontroversial songs dealing in generalities and emotions expressed so vaguely that anyone could relate to them. This instinct made them impressively adaptable, and when guitar rock’s currency crashed, they slipped easily into co-writes with Avicii and pop super-producers Stargate, and arranged guest appearances from Rihanna and the Chainsmokers.

The other is an impulse to experiment. One suspects it’s not something to which Coldplay are naturally suited – invited to compile a streaming service playlist of influences, they opted for pub jukebox crowd-pleasers by Bob Marley, Oasis and REM – but they keep giving it a go, tapping up electronic auteurs Brian Eno and Jon Hopkins for ideas, and releasing concept albums and pseudonymous dabblings in African music.

The artwork for Everyday Life.
The artwork for Everyday Life. Photograph: PR HANDOUT

Balancing continued vast commercial success with something more exploratory is tough to do. U2 pulled it off on Achtung Baby and Zooropa, but have spent the ensuing 25 years trying to remember how. On Everyday Life, Coldplay use the breadth of a double album to try again.

The straightforwardly Coldplay-esque moments sound more straightforward and Coldplay-esque than ever. Only the hazy synth washes of Church tilt towards the more electronic direction of Mylo Xyloto and Ghost Stories. The rest could have come from 2005’s X&Y: U2-ish guitars chime plangently, pianos strike melancholy chords, choruses soar into lighters-out uplift. It’s all melodically watertight, but the things that traditionally annoy people about Coldplay are there too, not least the sense that there’s something too steely and deliberate about their desire to get stadium crowds swaying along. Orphans even nicks the “Woo-woo” refrain from Sympathy for the Devil, which, as craven bids for audience participation go, seems one stop short of halting the song and shouting: “Oggy oggy oggy.”

The lyrical vagueness seems less lovable than ever because the songs generally deal with sociopolitical matters. Until they tack a recording of an incident of racist police harassment on to Trouble in Town, its vague lyrics about the “system that keeps you down” could be interpreted as being about anything from the patriarchy to taxation to the liberal media. The title track, meanwhile, offers a bit of hand-wringing about the state of the world that concludes, as someone else once did, that there are a lot of very fine people on both sides.

Far better are a couple of acoustic tracks with genuine emotional heft. Daddy’s drawing of disrupted paternal relations is really affecting, perhaps because it homes in on the kind of telling detail – “Look, dad, we’ve got the same hair” – Chris Martin usually ignores in favour of the widescreen image. You could suggest Guns contains a hint of equivocation – “Everything’s gone so crazy … maybe I’m crazy too” – but by contrast with the rest of Coldplay’s oeuvre, it’s like something off Flux of Pink Indians’ The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks: a splenetic, foul-mouthed burst of rage and bewildered despair.

Coldplay: Orphans – video

The rest of the album is given over to experiments, with varying degrees of success. Whatever you make of the lyrics of Èkó, which seem indebted to Paul Simon’s Under African Skies, its tumbling, Mali-influenced guitars are irresistible. The instrumentals Sunrise and Bani Adam are pleasant if inconsequential. Arabesque isn’t much of a song but the desert-bluesy groove is nice enough and the blasts of free-blowing sax carry a certain element of surprise.

But the dabblings in gospel (Broken) and bluesy doo-wop (Cry Cry Cry) seem like the result of a long and fruitful search to pinpoint the genres in which Coldplay are least suited to dabbling. The inclusion of WOTW/POTP is baffling. There are plenty of reasons to include a demo recording on an album: if it captures an unrepeatable moment of inspiration or a raw performance impossible to replicate in the studio. But WOTW/POTP does neither. It rambles aimlessly, it stops and starts, then finally collapses with Chris Martin muttering “I haven’t finished that one yet”, to which the obvious response is: “Why don’t you get back to us when you have, mate?”

Of course, it’s there as a signifier: that’s right, we’re Coldplay – one of the biggest bands in the world – and we’ve thrown caution to the wind. It’s a laudable intention, but Everyday Life is wildly uneven, held together only by its thematic obsession with religion: disc one (Sunrise) literally ends with a hymn, disc two (Sunset) with Chris Martin singing “Alleluia, alleluia”. You lose count of the references to God, church and prayer in between. What this signifies remains a mystery: has Chris Martin, a lapsed Christian, rediscovered his faith? Is it intended more in the vein of Nick Cave’s recent line about how “it doesn’t matter whether God exists or not – we must reach as if he does”? The answer remains elusive. As, alas, does the balance between world-beating commercialism and experimentation.

This week Alexis listened to

Baxter Dury: Slumlord


Slinky 4am disco groove, dead-eyed female backing vocals, and an authentically horrible performance from Dury in character as the titular horror: funky and flesh-crawling.

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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