Coldplay: “This is our period of having no fear”

Inspired by space, hard rock and, erm, emojis, Chris and co.’s ninth album ‘Music Of The Spheres’ is the sound of a band fearlessly entering a whole new orbit

You can be Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay, the 21st century’s biggest band, and still be keen to learn a thing or two. You can walk into any stadium or arena on this planet, light the place up with multi-coloured wristbands while thrilling hundreds of thousands of people, and still think you’ve not quite nailed the move as a frontman. That, it seems, is about to change.

“I’ve always wanted to do a move called the ‘Till Hammer’, he tells NME, referring to Rammstein’s frontman Till Lindermann’s trademark trick, usually reserved for their punishing performance of ‘Du Hast’. “It’s where you go like this…” he says, leaping up from the bench we’re sat on in a central London park into a surf stance, slightly side-on; his feet rock back and forth, the head starts swinging and the hammer – a clenched fist – comes down against his right thigh in time to an imaginary guitar riff. Consider this ‘Martin’s Mallet’.

NME Cover 2021 Coldplay
Credit: Dave Meyers

We’re discussing ‘People Of The Pride’, one of the highlights of Coldplay’s ninth album ‘Music Of The Spheres’, out today (October 15). The song opens with a bone-crunching guitar riff – the band collectively cite Muse, Depeche Mode and Rammstein as inspirations – as it segues between serene, spacey chords and plenty of opportunities to let the hammer drop. “That’s our Rammstein cover that isn’t actually a cover,” Martin laughs.

For years, that song had been their Moby Dick. The opening verse, which references a man “who swears he’s God” and “walks around like he owns the fucking lot”, was written in the ‘Viva La Vida’-era back in 2008, and until now only existed as a brooding piano-led demo. They struggled for years to nail it, but they were inspired last year to finish the song and speak of the people “sewing up of rags into revolution flags” who want “to be free to fall in love with who we want”.

“A lot of it came from the Black Lives Matter and Gay Pride marches where people using their voice to say ‘this situation is ridiculous’, so I think it’s our ‘This situation is ridiculous’ song,” Martin says. “We’re quite polite about it, though, as opposed to saying, ‘You fucking arseholes!’ But this is about human politics. This is the politics that believes that everyone on the planet has a right to be themselves. And I think whether you’re an old soft-rock superstar, or a young whippersnapper, you’re allowed to believe that.”

NME Cover 2021 Coldplay
Coldplay on the cover of NME. Photography by James Marcus Haney

A few days later, we see the move in action at Coldplay’s intimate show at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire as blows rain down during the song’s monstrous opening. It’s typical of the experience of listening to their buoyant record ‘Music Of The Spheres’, where playful pop magic meets earnest human politics; after two decades together, few bands, if any, are able to combine the two and do it with such ease and joy.

“This album is our period of having no rules or fear about what people think or say about us,” Martin says. “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.”

Martin’s response to those questioning the use of emojis for song titles (three of the tracks are ‘🪐’, ‘✨’ and ‘❤️’) is fitting for this era: “Well, why not? That’s our whole attitude to everything.”

NME Cover 2021 Coldplay
Credit: James Marcus Haney

We last found the band at a delightfully experimental juncture. 2019’s ‘Everyday Life’ served as a subtle riposte – though the band don’t seem to give a shit – to those who miss ‘Oldplay’ and the turn-of-the-century indie-rock they brought to ‘Parachutes’ (2000) and ‘A Rush Of Blood Of The Head’ (2002). Instead, there were sprawling compositions and collaborations with Femi and Made Kuti (son and grandson of Afrobeats pioneer, Fela) and Palestinian oud group, Le Trio Joubran. The NME review proclaimed it proof that “Coldplay are more adventurous than they’re often given credit for”, and described its stunning performance at the Citadel in Amman, Jordan as an “audacious undertaking”.

The project was bolstered by the pattern they’ve slipped into: for every day-glo pop bonanza record, there’s been a mellower response album. Following their sparkling fifth album ‘Mylo Xyloto’ (2011), came the gloomy ‘Ghost Stories’ (2014); after ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ (2016), they burrowed down for ‘Everyday Life’. Guitarist Jonny Buckland explains: “Knowing that the big one is coming allows us to go a lot smaller and to not worry about that; we can be much more insular about what music we make sense.”

“Everyone on the planet has a right to be themselves” – Chris Martin

This album – the big one – is one they had an inkling would be next for years; in fact, as bassist Guy Berryman mentions on Zoom the day prior, the band often have a title and concept in mind before the music arrives. “It’s just a device to provide a framework into which we can work thematically,” he says. “The name ‘Music Of The Spheres’ has been something we’ve been talking about for many years now.”

So, for the uninitiated, what is ‘Music Of The Spheres’, then?

“It’s a set of songs located in a distant galaxy… that we made up,” Martin says, with a glint in his eye, clearly aware at how daft the whole thing can be if you take it too seriously. “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…”

NME Cover 2021 Coldplay
Credit: Getty Images

It’s typical of the high-concept, sweeping visions that Martin and the rest of the band are prone to: ‘Mylo Xyloto’, after all, was a rock opera in which an ‘Orwellian’ dictatorship waged a war on sound and colour. But once you’ve conquered planet Earth the way Coldplay have – including four Glastonbury Festival headline sets and bagged eight consecutive UK Number One albums – then dreaming big, or at least appearing to do so, is par for the course.

And ‘Music Of The Spheres’ provides a palette for some moments of sheer brilliance; there’s the tubthumping ‘People Of The Pride’, ’80s excess on charming ‘Humankind’ and the album’s sublime, 10-minute closer ‘Coloratura’, their biggest musical flex in years. Contributions come from pop heavyweight Selena Gomez (‘Let Somebody Go’), as well as US R&B duo We Are King and Jacob Collier (‘Human Heart’), alongside scene-setting instrumentals and interludes.

The record’s clear vision, the band say, was realised by producer Max Martin (who’s worked with The Weeknd and Taylor Swift), who Berryman describes “as such a brilliant captain. I think we knew it’d always be this bigger sound, but when Max agreed to work with us, it was like, ‘Let’s really go for it; let’s have no limitations’.”

This openness led the band to work with pop titans, BTS, who appear on the collaborative single ‘My Universe’, where Martin and the group trade lines and flit between Korean and English for the band’s most charming – and likely soon-to-be – biggest collaboration yet.

“There are so many historical situations where our BTS collaboration wouldn’t have happened” – Guy Berryman

“They’ve got such amazing energy,” Berryman says. “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.

Drummer Will Champion agrees: “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.”

Connectivity is the prevailing theme of this album, both emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s most evident on ‘Higher Power’, where Martin is “down on my knees”, reaching out and upwards on a “heavenly phone”. He recently described himself as having a “really hard time”, and is considering the role his evangelical childhood had on him. Have things improved?

NME Cover 2021 Coldplay
Credit: Dave Meyers

“That was just a questioning time of life that I’m in, but yeah – it’s OK,” he says today. “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.”

And was that lockdown-inspired? Martin had previously said that his ego had taken a big check as a result of his being still for once.

“The adrenaline of touring or being all this everyday can be amazing,” Martin says, “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.”

NME Cover 2021 Coldplay
Credit: Dave Meyers

Next year, the band head out on their first full run of shows in over five years, with three dates slated for London’s Wembley Stadium in August. A return to Glastonbury Festival isn’t a part of it (says Martin: “Glastonbury is our spiritual home, but even your parents say you need to leave home sometimes”) but it’s a seismic event for different reasons. Back in 2019, they said that they wouldn’t be touring ‘Everyday Life’ due to the impact on the environment of large-scale tours like their own. They’ve spent the period taking influence from artists like Massive Attack and Billie Eilish, who’ve been leading the way in making live music safer for the environment.

“I think we’ve made a great start at the moment,” explains Berryman. “Whatever we end up doing, will be a Phase One, but there always has to be an improvement and a continual cycle. If you want to pick holes, and I’m sure someone can and will, I think that’s fine: what you have to do is embrace the idea of continued progress. It has to be an ever-evolving situation.”

“[With environmental concerns], you have to embrace the idea of continued progress” – Guy Berryman

Martin adds: “The reason that we did the BMW commercial [the car manufacturer recently used ‘Higher Power’ for their range of electric vehicles] was because they are giving us these batteries for the show that we can power with left-over restaurant oil and solar power. We also have this kinetic flooring in the front section of the audience, so when they move up and down the audience will create power. It’s a long way to go, but we want to get on with what we can do.”

The band are already considering their next challenge. Champion says that they’ll probably celebrate the release of ‘Music Of The Spheres’ by “working on the new music”; Martin is similarly coy about what Vol.2 in the ‘Music Of The Spheres’ series sounds like, but he’s sure of one thing: “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’.”

Wait, what? You think it’s three more Coldplay albums and then out?

NME Cover 2021 Coldplay
Credit: Dave Meyers

“I don’t think that’s what we’ll do,” he replies. “I know that’s what we’ll do in terms of studio albums.”

Crikey. Well, what’s left to achieve between now and the end, then? Going to try and squeeze in a Bond theme, perhaps?

“We kept trying to write one for 20 years, but never submitted them,” Martin laughs. “We have Bond themes for about five movies, but they’re not very good, to be honest. Also I don’t know if we’re spiritually on the same trip as James. As much as I like the films, I don’t know if us singing would do it for him. He’d be like, ‘That’s not what I’m into at all, fellas. I like guns and shit. All this hippie stuff just isn’t going to work’.”

They instead love what Billie and her brother, Finneas, did with ‘No Time To Die’, their eponymous theme for the recent 25th Bond movie, and enjoyed a recent collaboration at the Global Citizen concert in New York last month, where the sibling duo nailed ‘Fix You’’s second verse. Finneas enthusiastically told NME that the experience was “surreal”.

“I don’t think we’ll only make 12 albums. I know that’s what we’ll do” – Chris Martin

“It was equally wonderful singing with them,” says Chris. “I mean, [Finneas and Billie] wrote ‘Ocean Eyes’. I know when a song is great when my body goes into absolute furious jealousy for a minute – when I heard that song, I was like, ‘You fucking bastards’. But then I have to go ‘this is really inspiring’ and it becomes fandom; I love how much of a bond those two have.”

If we are, indeed, hurtling along the final stretch of Coldplay’s recording career, then ‘Music Of The Spheres’ is a fine one to usher it in. They’ve found an ample middle ground of everything that makes the band tick: stadium anthems, pop megahits and space-rock epics are nestled into deeper experimentation, and even some of your favourite emojis. As Martin shrugs: “We’ve got nothing to lose at this point.”

Coldplay’s ‘Music Of The Spheres’ is out now