After their platinum 2015 pop-pivot A Head Full of Dreams, an all-star Super Bowl halftime show and a two-year big-box tour that shifted $523 million in tickets, easy-listening rock champs Coldplay release an album that aspires to more than stadium-packing. This is positive: when Ed Sheeran becomes your gold standard, it would seem time for a rethink. Signifying ambition as in days of yore, Everyday Life is a double studio LP; it’s Coldplay’s rangiest and deepest release by orders of magnitude, maybe even their best.
Divided into halves titled (wait for it) “Sunrise” and “Sunset,” the band taps into storefront gospel, Nigerian afrobeat, and Sufi qawwali music. There are choirs, orchestral strings and an Alice Coltrane sample; interpolations of the Janis Joplin signature “Cry Baby,” and late Scottish indie-rocker Scott Hutchison’s “Los Angeles, Be Kind.” Lyrics and soundbites address racism, police violence, gun proliferation, and Syria missile strikes. The band’s been judiciously political since Martin was scrawling “MAKE TRADE FAIR” on his hand. But the sentiments here have never been so specific. He even sings conjugations of the word “fuck.” Yes, he sounds very polite doing it, of course. But it’s a solid start.
The record’s multiculturalism certainly recalls Viva la Vida, the band’s vaguely non-committal 2008 meet-up with art-rock swami Brian Eno. Here, the music is both more eclectic and more unified. Instead of just attempting to absorb afrobeat, Coldplay enlists a cross-section of the Fela Kuti dynasty — son Femi, grandson Made, and a sample of Fela himself — on the swaggering “Arabesque,” while rapper-singer Stromae drops French verses for good measure. “Bani Adam” (titled in its Arabic rendering, “بنی آدم”) combines Romantic piano, Persian poetry (Saadi), and West African church music. Yoking it all together is longtime Coldplay production wingman Rik Simpson and hitmaking Norwegian chrome-platers Stargate, who helped sculpt A Head Full of Dreams. It’s a good team: what might come off as a virtue-signaling kludge instead, at its best, transforms the band’s faintly imperial universalism into a diverse, collective one. (It’s worth noting that the band will donate what one presumes will be significant royalties from a couple of songs to support both the Innocence Project and the African Children’s Feeding Scheme.)
As ever, they’re good students, sometimes to a fault. “WOTW/POTP,” with its echoes of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” suggests a lo-fi demo captured in a Trenchtown yard with birds twittering overhead (actually recorded, it seems, at Electric Ladyland in Manhattan). The bloody “Trouble in Town,” with an African choir invoking Nelson Mandela and a harrowing 2013 audio clip of Philadelphia police officer Philip Nace terrorizing a man during a traffic stop, recalls Peter Gabriel’s “Biko.” Yet these feel more like tributes than ripoffs. The masterstroke is the single “Orphans,” conjuring a generation of refugees in a barroom-singalong, with a bassline recalling Bakithi Kumalo’s pulse on Paul Simon’s Graceland, and a reprise so redolent of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” it’s almost a “have your lawyers call our lawyers” mash note. It’s a band whose great talent has always been its aspirational one-world melodies, now sounding much more like the world.