Sound — 6
There was a little while in the beginning of the new millennium when it was nigh on impossible to escape Coldplay's domination of the charts, with strings of successful singles and their first three full-length albums taking up a lot of radio airplay real estate. It was hard to tell if Coldplay's original style was a continuation of the britpop style pioneered by bands like Oasis and Blur or if they were bringing something entirely new to the table, but by the time the band's fourth album, "Viva la Vida" was released, the band's position as the forebearers of a new "millennial" rock style that would eventually go on to be copied by bands like Imagine Dragons and likely inspired the reunited Fall Out Boy was completely cemented, and since then, with "Mylo Xyloto", "Ghost Stories" and "A Head Full of Dreams", the band has ploughed on with their mix of electronic beats and U2-esque pop/rock.
"Kaleidoscope" can be considered somewhat a part of the "A Head Full of Dreams" album cycle, named after an interlude track from that record, and considered by the band to be a companion piece to the album. And yet, in contrast to the majority of that album's upbeat, hip hop-influenced beats, opening track "All I Can Think About Is You" is an almost shoegaze-y, dark and somber track, dripping with reverb and played at a slower tempo. And strangely, it feels more organic, with a drum beat from Will Champion that sounds more like live drumming, Guy Berryman's nearly Krautrock-inspired bass loop and some noodly guitars from Johnny Buckland, including a bit of a lovely little guitar solo at the end. The piano chords and the climactic buildup at the end definitely hark back more to the band's "A Rush of Blood to the Head" era than anything the band has put out in recent memory, and it's the first time I've genuinely liked a Coldplay song in years.
"Miracles (Something Special)", on the other hand, is something a bit more typical of the "A Head Full of Dreams" style, with more synth and hip hop beats. Buckland's guitar does show up for a few palm-muted notes and some funky chord work here and there, and Berryman plays a really nice bass line in the verse, but overall, the track does little for me. Especially the Big Sean cameo, sticking out on this EP like a sore thumb. As far as cameo appearances go, "Aliens" ups the ante a bit by featuring ambient music legend and Bowie collaborator Brian Eno. This time, the synths seem a bit more experimental in nature, and the song's 5/4 time signature adds a compelling layer to the track. The guitar harmonic riff through the verse is eerie, as are the harmonized acoustics in the chorus, and I was quite surprised at how excellent this track is, though sadly this track doesn't build up with the same intensity as the first track.
A live version of the band's collaboration with electronic duo The Chainsmokers, "Something Just Like This", follows, and the 80s new wave backing isn't really anything special, and the track as a whole really feels kind of insipid, though Buckland gets some nice lead guitar flourishes near the end of the track. But adding a live track to the middle of an album has always seemed rather odd to me. "Hypnotized" closes out the album with loads of Chris Martin's piano playing. The track builds up over its six minutes, but again, nowhere near as intensely as the album's first track. Sadly, I just feel like the track doesn't really go anywhere in its length, but I'd still put it above "Something Just Like This" and "Miracles" in terms of quality.
Production is mostly split between Rik Simpson, Daniel Green, and Bill Rahko, though Brian Eno, Markus Dravs, and Martin Terefe contribute to one song a piece. It's a pretty tightly-mixed album, not quite as loud as similar works from Imagine Dragons, and with far more reverb added to the mix. Despite a couple of tracks featuring prominent electronic drum beats, this EP's production sounds a whole lot more organic than the album it's a companion piece to, and it seems like there's less emphasis on synth and more on piano, bass, guitar, and drums this time around.
Lyrics — 6
Pop/rock poetry has never been something to write home about, and Coldplay has always been a pretty good example of that. While I have to praise opening track "All I Can Think About Is You" for its musical qualities, the lyrics seem kind of chintzy and weak to me: "Fish fell out of water/Bird stuck on the ground/Chaos giving orders/Everything is upside down/The whole world on a flight path/I wonder where they'll go, ah/Trouble's on the outside, I know/But now, all I can think about is you/All I can think about is you/If all that I'm on earth to do/Is solo, then what a lone poor shoe/I want to walk in a two". And while I can appreciate the sentiment in "Miracles (Someone Special)" about achieving your dreams, and referencing several famous people in its lyrics, it all just feels like everything else we've ever heard in hundreds of similar pop tunes before it: "My father said never give up so/Just look how good Cassius become/Muhammad, Mahatma, and Nelson/Not scared to be strong/Now you could run and just say they’re right/No I’ll never be no one in my whole life/Or you could turn and say no wait they're wrong/And get to keep on dancing all life long". Surprisingly, "Aliens" is a bit more poetic and touching, comparing the current refugee situation to a story of alien beings fleeing their home planet after a catastrophe: "We were just about to lose our home/Diamonds ate the radio/Moving in the dead of night/We took photographs just some just so/History has some to know/We were moving at the speed of flight/Kids cry/If you want to/That's alright/If you want to/Hold me/Hold me tight/Just an alien". And in "Hypnotized", the band takes on the numbness that overcomes us all from recent current events: "It's easy to be lethal/I'm learning from the news/It's a guidebook for the blues/Saying it's the very same steeple/People want to choose/They just see it from different views".
All in all, lyrically, it's a bit of a mixed bag, with some decent lyrics sitting next to some cringe-worthy stuff. Chris Martin's vocal work, on the other hand, is pretty good, and exactly what you'll expect it to be. The qualities of his voice have changed very little since the "Parachutes" days, so fans who are familiar with his style will already know what to expect.
Overall Impression — 6
Coldplay's latest EP leaves me feeling a bit mixed overall. There are two really good tracks on this record that I would not have expected to come from a current day Coldplay, one track that's decent but a bit overly long and anticlimactic, and two kind of expected, safe electro-pop/rock tracks with the prerequisite rapper cameos and synthpop collaborations. Having a live track closer to the middle of an EP often throws off the pace for me, since that's the kind of track you usually keep at the end of a record, so the pacing of the EP is a little off, too.
But, focusing on the positives, the first and third tracks on this EP are surprisingly excellent, and at times, even seem to hark back a bit to the band's creative peak earlier in their career. The buildup in "All I Can Think About Is You" may even surprise some of the band's haters, with how good it is. "Aliens" is also a pretty compelling and decently experimental track coming from this band, and definitely worth a listen if you're a Brian Eno fan.
So overall, I suppose three out of these five tracks are worth listening to, and I'll take a pass on the other two. About what you'd expect from recent Coldplay.