Parlophone Records / Atlantic Records
Release Date: October 15th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Music Of The Spheres
- Higher Power
- Alien Choir
- Let Somebody Go (feat. Selena Gomez)
- Human Heart (feat. We Are KING & Jacob Collier)
- People Of The Pride
- Music Of The Spheres II
- My Universe (feat. BTS)
- Infinity Sign
I used to believe that generally speaking; an artist usually stays in their lane throughout their whole career. Whether it is music genre of lyrical content or just the topics they dwell upon throughout their songs and throughout their albums- even the types of producers and songwriters that certain artists use… generally speaking (and this is a generalisation), I thought that a country artist stays country, and a pop artist stays pop. There would be no blurring between the lines, and listeners can have their favourite artist and can avoid others like the plague, should they wish to do so. However as I began to be more immersed in the mainstream music industry (since 2019) and aware of how much collaboration goes on between different types of singers and songwriters and producers; I began to see the blurs between genres and lyrical topics… and while this confused me, it excited me. For KING & COUNTRY, Lauren Daigle, Lecrae, Needtobreathe and Switchfoot were stepping forth into the mainstream and shining the light of Jesus in that industry, while Chris Tomlin collaborated with a whole bunch of folks from the country music scene to create a personal album standout in 2020. BTS continues to wow the world with their musically ground-breaking pop, while other artists like Pentatonix, Justin Bieber, OneRepublic, Little Mix, Dua Lipa, Amy Shark, Alessia Cara, Selena Gomez and Alicia Keys continued to dominate the wider music industry at large- by experimenting musically and lyrically with various elements that we may have never thought possible not too long ago. Taylor Swift also surprised us with the embarking of her re-recordings of her old albums, while none of us could expect that she could record two albums of folk and Americana. Yet for me, it was last year when I heard Coldplay’s “Higher Power” that I realised how intertwined mainstream and Christian music actually is… and that’s a very cool thing to fully grasp and understand.
As Christians, we are called to the be the salt and light of the earth. Does this mean that whenever the gospel is being preached, that the person singing needs to be a Christian? Some would say yes, that it is heresy when we hear uplifting, worshipful songs from Hawk Nelson, Gungor, Derek Webb, Audrey Assad, Kevin Max and Jars of Clay, considering how many of these singers and lead vocalists of the aforementioned bands have deconstructed away from Christianity. Yet do the songs, written at a time when these artists believed, still hold water? For me, there’s no question. “Diamonds”, “For The Love Of You”, “Kings And Queens”, “Show You Love”, “There’s Only One (Holy One)”, “Beautiful Things”… all of these songs and more, still give glory to God, regardless of what these artists now believe. The songs still have power… but what about artists who haven’t professed to be Christian in the past? Can a body of work that a mainstream artist (and maybe presumed atheist artist) still glorify God? That was the question posed to be as I listened to “Higher Power” and Coldplay’s new album Music Of The Spheres.
This album is our period of having no rules or fear about what people think or say about us. We’ve already had all the good and bad reviews in the world and if we worry about the response, it makes you a little more cautious. There’s a part of you that has to accept that we’re an older band, we were never the new ‘cool young thing’… but in a strange way it’s quite liberating. There’s no pressure on us, we just get to do what we love.
It’s just a device to provide a framework into which we can work thematically. The name ‘Music Of The Spheres’ has been something we’ve been talking about for many years now. It’s a set of songs located in a distant galaxy… that we made up. It’s where we can be totally free from any pressure of what we’ve done before and how we should sound. That freedom of location allows us to speak about what it means to be human. It seems a bit sci-fi and everything, but really it’s a bunch of love songs. It’s not even really set in space. It could all be set in Margate too; it just depends what the music videos and artworks look like – we could have dancing fish and chips salesmen instead…
Had “Higher Power” not grabbed me, had “Higher Power” not resonated with my soul and my spirit; I would not have reviewed this album and I would’ve never given this project a chance. But, such is God with his mysterious ways… I’ve found Music Of The Spheres to be, quite reflective, introspective, inspiring and challenging… even if on the surface, the album is a tad new-age-y. With the album opener being the 1 minute dance inspired instrumental title track that is explained to be an intro piece…we always make albums as a whole, and we started putting interludes and musical sections between songs, almost like palate cleansers…; the ‘real’ start comes with the energetic dance track “Higher Power”. And boy, what a moving, inspiring, confronting and though-provoking song that is. With Chris previous describing himself as an ‘allthiest’, as in someone who believes in everything; he has spoken a lot about the trials of his evangelical Christian upbringing. Maybe that’s why this song feels somewhat spiritual and a response to all of what he was taught when he was younger, but as Chris has eloquently mentioned, That was just a questioning time of life that I’m in, but yeah – it’s OK. It turns out I’m a completely normal human being with some stuff to sort out. There are things that when I get older that I can’t keep thinking that anymore or doing that anymore. It’s just about growing up. And lots of people in our job have been able to grow up and ignore dealing with certain stuff because you’re doing OK or you’re famous, and then you get to a certain point and you realise that’s not the answer to every question. I’m just trying to improve my life and where I can improve. The adrenaline of touring or being all this everyday can be amazing, but it can sometimes be a distraction; if this was all taken away, who are you? How are you being useful? It’s OK, I think that’s why we’re here on earth to figure out what we need to figure out. Musically and lyrically, “Higher Power” is a sight to behold, as we are met with a moment of realisation that we don’t have all of the answers and maybe we do have to submit to a higher power, that ‘…that you’ve got a higher power, got me singin’ every second, dancin’ every hour, oh yeah, you’ve got a higher power, and you’re really someone I wanna know…’; and as Chris submit to the mysteries of the universe and indirectly asks God for help, we are reminded that God is the only One who can help us in this life and can provide us comfort and peace.
With this song “Higher Power” glorifying God (I believe that even if the track wasn’t intended for that purpose, God still used it for His glory!), how does the rest of Music Of The Spheres stack up? Is every other track inspiring and pointing to Jesus? Well, not quite, but this album sure is much more aware of spiritual issues and religious undertones than previous efforts from the band. “Humankind”, a poppy, danceable anthem, speaks about what it means to be human, and whether it is how we look, or is it how we feel and our experiences on the inside that make us human and make us the same or different to someone else. It’s a musically superficial song but a lyrically deep one; while “Alien Choir”, another ethereal, haunting and mysterious interlude, is next. The piano ballad “Let Somebody Go” with Selena Gomez, is one of the album highlights in my opinion, as both Chris and Selena earnestly and emotionally relay that to love someone is the most important thing you can do in your life, and that sometimes you need to let them go if you truly love them. While “Human Heart”, with We Are KING & Jacob Collier, is a semi-acapella stirring assessment of the fragility and the overwhelming paradoxical nature of the human heart. With the song outlining that we as humans can’t trust our heart because it is fickle and lies, it is in fact the structure of how the heart behaves in certain situations, that is what makes us human and makes our experiences worth living. And thus, we come to a conundrum, and this song is Coldplay trying to explain this phenomenon of living with w fragile heart but still being happy and content because of the brokenness.
The no-nonsense, powerful and commanding rocker “People Of The Pride”, is littered with motifs and imagery, but is essentially about standing up for what you believe in, even when you know people may laugh and ridicule you (similar in theme to Switchfoot’s “Dare You To Move”). It’s a song that could also be viewed as an LGBTQ+ pro song, however I reckon this song can also be read into us all standing up for what is right, and making an active change in the world- being counted as a player and not a spectator. The musically experimental and vocally weird and strange “Biutyful” features Chris singing in an ‘alien-like’ falsetto for a great portion of the song, and speaks about our own obsessive need as humans to feel loved, and our need for others to accept and recognise us; while the 21 second interlude “Music Of The Spheres II” is sung with the vocals backwards- when reversed, you can hear: everyone is an alien somewhere, remember, Spheres of the Music, welcome to, ladies and gentlemen. While when reading each line backwards, the intended message is: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Music of the Spheres, remember, everyone is an alien somewhere.
“My Universe”, with BTS, is one of the most poppy songs that Coldplay has ever recorded, as Chris and BTS sing in perfect harmony, and create a pure, hopeful and unique love song that is perfect to dance to in the clubs and bars. And as Coldplay have mentioned about the Korean boy-band: They’ve [BTS] got such amazing energy. We hung out with them recently in New York, and even though there’s a bit of a language barrier, it didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable at all. When a situation like that arises, the easiest thing can be to say ‘no’ to a collaboration like that because they’re different, or they’re from a different genre or a different country. There’s so many historical situations where that collaboration wouldn’t have happened. This notion that change is a bad thing is crazy – we want to grow and embrace music and culture from all over the world. That’s the spirit of this album, trying to get rid of all those barriers we put up between us and other people. Some would say that Coldplay and BTS don’t mix… but this song shows us that they do, and they do it well. “Infinity Sign”, the penultimate song on the album, is a quasi-spiritual chant in which Chris cries out repeatedly ‘Spiritus sanctum’- the Latin word for Holy Spirit. Is this song an outright prayer to God, asking Him for more of the Holy Spirit? Even when Chris has said that he ‘believes in everything’? Maybe… but others could say this song is outright heresy and blasphemy. But whatever the case, it’s interesting that this song is included and is one of the more overt songs about religion and spirituality that I’ve heard this year from a mainstream artist… and I still firmly believe that God can use this song to draw people closer to Him, regardless of how the rest the these songs fare lyrically. Music Of The Spheres then ends with the 10 minute “Coloratura”- a melody I didn’t really care for. With the song being based upon the actual definition of a coloratura; Coldplay deliver one of the most musically and structurally complicated songs of their career. Technically, sonically and objectively, it’s a masterpiece, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what this track meant lyrically and thematically. Do any of you have any idea? I mean, “Coloratura” is ten minutes- it’s 6 minutes too long… so I just skipped through the song to see how it was…
We’re going to make 12 albums. Because it’s a lot to pour everything into making them. I love it and it’s amazing, but it’s very intense too. I feel like because I know that challenge is finite, making this music doesn’t feel difficult, it feels like, ‘This is what we’re supposed to be doing’. I don’t think that’s what we’ll do [three more Coldplay albums and then out]. I know that’s what we’ll do in terms of studio albums. We’ve got nothing to lose at this point.
Coldplay are a band that have kept reinventing the wheel musically, lyrically and thematically throughout their career thus far. My brother Jon wrote a blog about these guys this year; and from that and this album Music Of The Spheres, we are introduced to an artist who will be remembered long after they’ve retired. Sure, Chris has sketchy theology and beliefs. But God is still working through this album, as much as many won’t want to believe that. The Holy Spirit is moving here (although, on songs like “Coloratura” and “Biutyful”, we need to use our discernment!), and as such, Music Of The Spheres is an album we need to hear. It’s not my favourite album, and it won’t make my end of list in favourites that I usually post every year. But it is challenging and inspiring nonetheless, and that’s all you can hope for, for any album, I guess. Well done guys for something out of the box. Maybe a Christmas album next?
3 songs to listen to: Higher Power, Let Somebody Go, My Universe
RIYL: Maroon 5, Imagine Dragons, U2, Ed Sheeran, OneRepublic, Rihanna, The Weeknd, Linkin Park