By Robert Ham
Word around the campfire is that Coldplay have been spending some time in an LA recording studio recording their long awaited follow up to 2011’s Mylo Xyloto. That should be great news for the band’s fanbase whose appetites have been stirred up by “Atlas,” their Grammy-nominated track from the The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack.
While there has been no indication about a release date for the LP, when it does finally see the light of day, there will likely be a lot of questions about how it will perform both artistically and sales-wise. Mylo Xyloto evenrtual at No. 1 on the charts in many countries, but its sales paled in comparison to the band’s peak, 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head. That disc sold a combined 6.7 million copies in the UK and U.S., whereas Mylo sold about 4 million less.
Granted, that could simply be a reflection of an overall decline in record sales (down 8.4% according to SoundScan), but it seems like even the band’s most ardent supporters had a hard time making sense of Mylo Xyloto‘s knotty concept, much less its tongue-twisting title. Critics, too, looked askance at this effort to combine sky-scraping rock with a 1984-like “art saves mankind” storyline.
This is a surprisingly similar story for artists at this point in their careers. Many of Coldplay’s peers and influencers have met similar crossroads, wondering how to either bounce back commercially or at least make a stronger artistic statement with their sixth album. With those in mind, we offer up the five most interesting directions for Coldplay to follow for their hopefully soon-to-be arriving next LP.
1. Go Achtung Baby
Another quartet of stadium-filling, socially-conscious rock stars, U2 were at their lowest ebb after their highest of heights via The Joshua Tree. Try as they did to avoid it, the band were on the verge of becoming the rock star buffoons that they attempted to provide the alternative to. So, how did they respond? They retreated to Berlin and made a weird, glammy, and funky LP layered with weird synthesizer and guitar textures and roundabout rhythms. Coldplay could use a little of that same spirit; an embrace of the fact that being in rock band is a fairly ridiculous career choice. It could be fun to hear them up that campy aspect of it and strip away as much of the celebrity ego that surrounds bands like theirs. And if they accidentally skip over Achtung and land instead in Pop territory, it should at least make for a fascinating failure.
2. Go Hail To The Thief
One of Coldplay’s biggest influences, Radiohead already proved their artistic bona fides via the amazing triple play of OK Computer, Kid A, and Amnesiac, albums that were layered with incident and sound. So when the band went into the studio to track Hail to the Thief, their m.o. was to work quickly and track as much of it as possible live. It’s an attitude that Coldplay could certainly use with their next full-length. As fine as their last few albums were, they were very audibly Pro-Tools aided constructions that have been polished to a blinding sheen. Bring some live-in-the-studio grit to the next album, and take a “first thought, best thought” approach to the songwriting. It’s doubtful any Coldplay fans will go running for the hills if it’s a little (or a lot) rough around the edges.
3. Go Pin-Ups
This idea is a little trickier and could likely be seen as Coldplay just wasting time, but it could also be a lot of fun. At the height of his Ziggy Stardust period, David Bowie knocked out Pin-Ups, a tribute album to the songs that were his “favorites from the ’64-67′ period of London,” according to the album’s liner notes, featuring glammed up covers of artists like Pink Floyd, The Who, and The Kinks. Coldplay has done their fair share of renditions of tracks by influences such as Echo & The Bunnymen and Oasis. Why not knock out a dozen or so in the studio and really show the fans how their signature sound came to be? It could be nice diversion for the band and help get them out of their heads for a little while. Of course, if it ends up being an album full of Radiohead covers, then we’ll have a problem.
4. Go Music For Airports
Here’s a direction that will really mess with the heads of the hardcore Coldplay fans. After releasing five albums of warped glam pop and formless soundscapes, Brian Eno (who helped produce Mylo and Viva La Vida) decided to explore the idea of creating “environmental music suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres,” according to the liner notes. Hence, a collection of delicate instrumentals intended to be piped into airport lounges and boarding areas. The point is for Coldplay to follow their collective muse and follow whatever particular musical idea fascinates them. Could be a Timbaland-produced hip-hop/pop hybrid (Chris Martin has been vocal about his love of Justin Timberlake’s solo work), could be a bunch of songs created using only drum machines and synths. The band has the cachet and the money to burn. They shouldn’t be afraid to use either.
5. Go Don’t Believe The Truth
To hell with everything considered above and do like one of Martin’s other favorite bands Oasis and just stay the course. The Brothers Gallagher were stubborn in their adherence to a meaty rock sound, cut through only slightly with the occasional ballad. Nothing, not even the diminishing critical interest and commercial returns, would stop them. Like Oasis, Coldplay is now a legacy band in the UK music market, and their next album is surely a lock to hit at No. 1 on the charts (as all five of their albums already have). Why mess with a good thing?