“[Chris] Martin once presented a song to Beyoncé called “Hook Up” and played it in the studio for her and producer Stargate. She turned it down, he says, “in the sweetest possible way: She told me, ‘I really like you — but this is awful.’”
Chris Martin’s bullet-proof affectation as a man of few regrets has only grown more transparent with age. Not by any lack of labor on his part; what may have struck as an experience-affirming candor at 29 only drips with begrudged denial and nostalgic longing at midlife. “I have a very wonderful separation-divorce,” the lyricist and singer reflected in a 2016 Rolling Stone profile — pointedly prefixing his very real “divorce” with the word’s less enduring analogue. For any other artist, you’d expect this kind of unreliable narration to, just maybe, bleed into their output in a creative, interesting way. Unfortunately, this is Coldplay we’re talking about, and in Martin’s case, forthright denialism and his seemingly congenital myopia carry over in the crudest, most ad hoc fashion, motivating every predictable impulse on Kaleidoscope, his band’s latest album-cycle stopgap.
A supposed “companion piece” to 2015’s anodyne A Head Full of Dreams, Kaleidoscope boasts just five songs, a whopping four of which have already seen release as singles. Which begs the question, why does this particular record merit release? And how does a five-track EP deserve a drawn-out three-week physical release roll out? How many Coldplay fans even buy the band’s physical merchandise anymore? Why (money) Coldplay feel the need to put out EPs in the first place beats me; in any case, the release’s awkward format and patronizing presentation are among the least of its poor qualities: Even for the heads, Kaleidoscope offers very little not already heard elsewhere.
Scanning like a press release, the EP mostly revolves around and serves as an immediate vehicle for an unnecessary “Live at the Budokan” remix of the already omnipresent Snapchat single “Something Just Like This.” That EDM-tinged pop hit, co-billing resident jackasses The Chainsmokers, employs the latter group’s overproduced, under-wrought pop M.O. to create what is a deadly, parasitic ear-worm. On Coldplay’s part, it’s a rather smart move. It’s an undeniable cash-grab, a shameless, condescending burlesque that continues to play itself out in empty 24-hour Rite-Aids and depopulated Walmarts the country over. A self-styled summer soundtrack and apparent hymn to youthful indiscretion — in the vein of their 2008 hit “Viva la Vida” — “Something Just Like This” ditches the world-weary historicism of the former, sporting instead such laughable, sophomoric introspections as opening lyrics “I’ve been reading books of old / The legends and the myths /Achilles and his gold / Hercules and his gifts / Spiderman’s control /And Batman with his fists.” Like his prime “influence,” Bono, Martin has always claimed his talents come from God, or whatever, and so his shoe-horned, vicarious stabs at humility barely pass muster here, hardly masking the usual, obvious motivating delusions of grandeur: “I’m not looking for somebody / With some superhuman gifts / Some superhero / Some fairytale bliss.” Despite being practically unrelatable to anyone outside NME’s readership, Martin’s poetics have never exactly been topical or unique so much as they have been crassly universal. This particular release, however, in its means, motive, and opportunity, only renders the wide displacement between participant and performer more stark.
Yet time appears to be linear: Having hit the big four-oh this past March, Martin is getting older, and even he, judging by his responses in the aforementioned interview, knows it. Any attempts at corralling the fabled “millennial zeitgeist” — a phrase I really wish I didn’t have to use — prove chimeric, though. In addition to the previously mentioned Chainsmokers pair-up, there is the very ungainly Big Sean feature “Miracles (Something Special),” which, wearing more than a few embarrassing, auto-generated reverential name-drops, inappropriately and predictably functions as a quasi-ode to respectability: “My father said never give up son/ Just look how good Cassius become/ Muhammad, Mahatma, and Nelson/ Not scared to be strong.” Meanwhile, Big Sean spits, without apparent provocation, “I guess you either watch the show or you show ‘em proof/ Prove it to them, you prove it to yourself, but, honestly, it’s better if you do it for yourself.” It’s become dad-rock — or maybe mom-pop — at its finest, only striking with the audacity, personality, and hipness of a skateboard-toting, backwards-baseball-cap-wearing Steve Buscemi. And so Kaleidoscope isn’t exactly a midlife crisis, but it functions very much the same way. And let’s just stop for a moment to remark upon the sheer drop of a fall from grace that they have witnessed since their critical and commercial peak. They went from collaborating with the likes of billionaire dad Jay-Z — admittedly already well past his prime when he hopped on the remix of 2008’s mostly decent “Lost!” — to contracting with XXL’s most obnoxious, arguably most untalented 2010 Freshman. “Miracles,” among other aspects of Kaleidoscope, only highlights the band’s spent cultural cachet.
Their quaint domestic appeal notwithstanding, it goes without saying that Coldplay have never exactly been critical darlings. Regarding their reception, Martin says, “I had a couple of years in the mid-2000s where it was really confusing to me[.] I was like, ‘Why is our band sometimes a punch line?’” This given, it might seem all too easy to dismiss this particular, poorly-aging pop act, ripping their latest work to shreds, sending it up as if I’m some arbiter of an arbitrary cool. As far as Chris Martin is concerned, I’m Schmucky the Clown — and that is not what this review is intended to do. It is rather intended to give an honest look at musicians who, having effectively reached the top of the pops nearly a decade ago, seem unsure of, and insecure with, their immediate direction and long-term future. In an interview that I can’t seem to find, but swear once existed, Martin sagely quipped something along the lines of “It’s unwise for band members to continue past the age of 30.” He later clarified, when pressed, that Coldplay had to progress as if each release “were our last.” We can all hope and pray, but Coldplay still, in 2017, manage to shift millions of units and sell out ever-crowded stadiums.