By Maura Johnston
November 22, 2019 at 12:58 PM EST
Tim Saccenti

Coldplay‘s debut Parachutes turns 20 in July, and the band’s eighth full-length, Everyday Life, does have a sense of reckoning about it. Billed as a double album (it’s 16 tracks long), it’s a sprawling, questioning project from a group clearly stunned and dismayed by the crueler ways of the world. But it’s not entirely lacking in hope, thanks to their willingness to stretch themselves in order to help mitigate humanity’s horrors and slights.

While Everyday Life is bursting with thoughts on modern life, it also has the big-tent pop moments that made Coldplay one of the 21st century’s most reliable arena acts. “Church” recalls the churning splendor of “Viva La Vida,” with Martin’s voice weaving in and out of Qawwali singer Amjad Sabri’s sampled keening at the end; “Champion of the World” sounds ready-made for particularly inspirational highlight reels, its refracted guitars gleaming like the moon that’s likely been conjured in listeners’ heads by Martin’s E.T. references.

Other songs use found sounds to make their lyrics’ points more explicit. “Trouble In Town” is moody and foreboding, its galloping drums underscoring Martin’s descriptions of societal strife; as it builds into a frenzy, audio from a 2013 clip of Philadelphia police harassing citizens comes in, adding dread to Martin’s murmured, “And I get no shelter/ And I get no peace/ And I just get more police.” “Arabesque,” meanwhile, is driven by high-gloss horns and a stridently strummed guitar at first. The frontman’s coolly delivered testimony about the history-altering power of music soon gives way to a blaring, stretched-out horn solo by Nigerian activist and musician Femi Kuti that’s intercut with his father, Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, asserting that “music is the weapon of the future.” The sonic maelstrom that immediately rises up would bear that out — although the gentle rain and somber choir that announce the beginning of “When I Need A Friend,” which follows, show how music can also provide comfort.

When Coldplay takes a breath — whether through stripped-down arrangements or worship-music infusions — the emotionalism expands, and the distance between rock star and record listener shrinks. “Daddy” and “Old Friends” use their sparseness to evoke longing, with the former’s abandoned-child lament anchoring its sugary melody to percussion that evokes a heartbeat and the latter using fingerpicked guitar to add humanism to its elegiac lyrics. “Guns,” which opens the album’s second half, finds Martin in punk-troubadour mode, gasping for air as he decries a dystopia where the answer to everything lies in acquiring more guns, even if it means melting down instruments and slashing forests to stumps.

The title track, which closes the album, mirrors one path out of existential crises, kicking off with the very au courant question “What are we going to do?” and closing with Martin singing “alleluia, alleluia” over increasingly frenetic strings. At the song’s close, the music suddenly drops out — although if you start the album over again, the opening drones of “Sunrise” resolve its final chord. It’s a shrewd reminder that the only way out of one’s turmoil is through — and an effective invitation to hit replay on this catchy, curveball-filled record.  B+

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