From Beyonce and Rihanna to Tove Lo and Kylie Minogue, Coldplay have never been afraid to wholeheartedly embrace their pure pop sensibilities. But their recent collaboration with The Chainsmokers – the interminably vapid bro dudes who began their career with an EDM ode to the selfie – was the first time Chris Martin and co. appeared to be chasing a hit so transparently.
Admittedly, Jonny Buckland’s morse code-esque guitar solo and Martin’s earnest vocals ensure that the starry-eyed synth-pop of “Something Just Like This” (featured here as a live version recorded in Tokyo) isn’t quite as anaemic as the Chainsmokers’ own output. But still, its unashamed bid to make the top of the Spotify playlists didn’t bode particularly well for the band’s 13th EP, Kaleidoscope.
However, the rest of the five-track collection – named after the interlude from 2015’s A Head Full of Dreams (which isn’t included here) – is thankfully a little less contrived. In fact, with its swirling shoegazey guitars and trip-hop beats which appear to have been lifted from Massive Attack classic “Teardrop,” “All I Can Think About Is You” is far more ‘90s comedown than ‘10s banger.
It’s not the only time that Coldplay venture outside their crowd-pleasing arena rock comfort zone. Produced by Brian Eno – the mastermind behind the band’s 2008 experimental chart-topper Viva La Vida and Death to All His Friends – “A L I E N S” is an intriguing blend of skittering rhythms and ambient synths which seems unlikely to inspire much LED wristband waving at the group’s next sell-out stadium show.
Even more interestingly for a band who are often accused of offering little more than vague platitudes, it’s a track which also has something to say a specific issue, namely the current refugee crisis. Admittedly, lyrics such as “tell your leader, sir or ma’am/we come in peace, we mean no harm” aren’t going to be given today’s great protest singers many sleepless nights. But it’s encouraging to hear Coldplay finally tackle something timely and weighty, even if’s taken 17 years for them to do so.
Kaleidoscope’s other two offerings aren’t quite as essential, but are still worthy of taking a spot on one of the band’s seven studio efforts. In fact, closer “Hypnotised,” a plaintive piano ballad which builds up to a typically cinematic crescendo, could quite easily have slotted onto the group’s 2000 debut, Parachutes. And although Coldplay and hip-hop sound like mutually exclusive terms on paper, the slinky funk of Big Sean-guesting “Miracles (Someone Special)” now takes the band’s tally of surprisingly listenable rapper collaborations up to two (the Jay Z-featuring “Lost,” of course, being the other).
So just like the album that it’s been described as a companion piece to, Kaleidoscope is something of a mixed bag which offers little clues as to where Coldplay will go next. Throwback to their early days? More hip-pop hybrids? Perhaps a new-found politically active direction? Let’s just hope they have now got their trend-chasing fratboy-friendly ambitions completely out of their system.