For its 2019 album “Everyday Life,” Coldplay veered into experimental territory. The integration of alt-rock leanings, gospel choirs and the sounds of clock tower bells combined for what singer Chris Martin calls “very old in a strange way, almost Medieval.”
On Friday, the British quartet spins the opposite direction with the release of its ninth studio album, “Music of the Spheres,” a grand presentation of melodic pop that soars even beyond Coldplay’s usual lushness.
The album incorporates the mystique of the cosmos and many of the song titles include emojis of the hearts and globe variety. The inclusion of a parade of twentysomething guests – Selena Gomez, BTS and renowned British musician Jacob Collier – feels organic rather than calculated for chart success.
“We’ve just abandoned any form of rules and if something feels cool, we’ll do it,” Martin tells USA TODAY in an interview with guitarist Jonny Buckland. “We wanted a colorful, vibrant (feel to the album).”
Talking via Zoom against a starry background, Martin and Buckland are witty, charming and self-deprecating.
When asked if he offered BTS, who collaborated on the smash hit "My Universe," any advice about dealing with fame, Martin deadpans, “We asked them what fame was like? What’s it like to be really famous pop stars? Because we always get confused for Genesis.”
“Or the guys who bring the snacks,” Buckland added.
He then shares an anecdote with Buckland about how he got, in his words, “Pretty Woman-ed" in a guitar store when he told the clerk he needed a guitar for a beginner. “He thought it was for me, so I said, ‘What about these amazing vintage guitars?’ and he said, ‘Well those, if you break them you have to pay for them,’ and he didn’t want me to try them! But I was dressed as a tramp,” Martin says with a grin.
But, joking aside, Martin and Buckland (as well as drummer Will Champion and bassist Guy Berryman) are understandably proud of “Music of the Spheres.” It’s a notable achievement for a band that has recorded dozens of hits ranging from the heartfelt (“Fix You,” “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”) to the lofty (“Viva La Vida,” “Clocks,” “A Sky Full of Stars”) to hip electro-pop (“Something Just Like This” with The Chainsmokers, “My Universe” with BTS).
Martin credits Swedish super-producer Max Martin – whose pedigree ignited in the late-’90s during his tenure with Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync – with helping Coldplay find a new level of surefootedness.
“Max has been sort of a Mr. Miyagi figure for us in terms of allowing us to find something within the band that we thought might be there, but has taken a while to get there,” Martin says, invoking the fictional mentor of “The Karate Kid.” “We have so much faith in him as a producer and a co-writer. At every step, he was so good at giving us confidence, especially toward the end as we were making brave decisions about things like let’s have BTS on here and he’d say, ‘Yep, let’s go.’”
Coldplay’s No. 1 hit with the K-pop wunderkinds is the Brits’ second chart-topper, following “Viva La Vida” in 2008. Their other collaborations on the album – “Let Somebody Go” with Gomez and “Human Heart” with We Are King and Collier – also bring “something unique,” says Buckland.
“Selena has an incredible, soulful voice and We Are King is so cool and amazing and Jacob Collier…”
“He’s our Mozart,” Martin interjects. “We’ve always maintained a real love of pop culture and what’s happening. I love BTS. I love Selena…and (she) felt like that song was always hers to sing and ‘My Universe’ was always to sing with BTS. And Jacob is the most talented person I’ve ever met.”
While lyrically, most of the songs on “Music of the Spheres” marinate in positivity and hopefulness, some, such as “Let Somebody Go” tilt toward the melancholy.
“We’re all getting older and people keep dying all over the place,” Martin says of the former. “Part (of the song) is about that, part is about relationships and part is about trying to fix relationships. I don’t know who or what it’s about…I think it’s a bunch of people.”
Given that Martin is father to Apple, 17, and Moses, 15, with ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, and Buckland is also a parent of two, the topic of teaching kids about sensitivity seems relevant in the ballad “Human Heart,” with its opening, “boys don’t cry/boys keep it all inside.”
“It’s so lovely to get a new perspective on things about people we love. It’s nice to see the world through their eyes,” Buckland says.
“I think that hanging out with teenagers can’t help but influence what you listen to and talk about and you’re learning as much from them as they are from you," Martin says. "In fact, more probably because they’re not interested in learning anything from us! It’s cool when your kids start getting you into things. That’s how I got into Travis Scott or The 1975 or Olivia Rodrigo or whoever it may be,”
The centerpiece of “Music of the Spheres” is the 10-minute closer, “Coloratura,” a winding, Beatles-esque shapeshifter that could be considered Coldplay’s opus. While it includes the lyric, “In this crazy world, I just want you,” Martin is reluctant to discuss whether it’s about Dakota Johnson, his girlfriend of more than three years.
But he and Buckland joke that for casual Coldplay listeners, the song is the equivalent of “abridged Shakespeare to summarize the book” or the “Cliffs notes Coldplay.”
Says Buckland with a laugh, “10 minutes and all you need to know (about Coldplay).”
The band will take "Music of the Spheres" to the stage for a 2022 world tour, which kicks off March 18 in Costa Rica. Stops on the eco-friendly tour include Mexico City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Berlin, Paris and London. Grammy-winning singer H.E.R. will join the band on most dates, with indie pop group London Grammar opening at some European shows. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. local time next Friday. Coldplay pledged a number of eco-friendly actions for the tour, including powering the show with renewable, super-low emission energy; planting a tree for every ticket sold; minimizing air travel and using sustainable aviation fuel where flying is unavoidable.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coldplay's Chris Martin talks 'Music of the Spheres' album, BTS collab