Coldplay Play to Their Strengths on Colorful New EP ‘Kaleidoscope’

Coldplay‘s new five-track EP “Kaleidoscope” contains a remix of the song “Hypnotised” that serves as a perfect microcosm for what the band is all about. With looping piano melodies, a toy xylophone, swelling synth pads, and textural guitars, the band builds arena rock via an ambient sensibility that makes the song both larger than life and completely unobtrusive. Chris Martin’s voice builds from a smoky, low growl into a yearning belt and finally to a falsetto coo, never really moving past the first impressionistic thought that his lyrics alight upon, dangling the sentiment back and forth like a pocket watch at the end of a chain. Once more, listeners have been hypnotized by the same tried and true formula that’s always done the trick for the London quartet.

As a companion piece to 2015’s “Headful of Dreams,” it seems that this smaller sampler suffers many of the same deficiencies and exhibits many of the same strengths that typified the full-length release. The band sounds incredibly comfortable throughout, assured and confident of their ability to craft pop hooks that will fill stadiums before they even get out of bed. In fact, the EP’s remix of “Something Just Like This,” their collaboration with The Chainsmokers, even incorporates a Tokyo audience singing along and cheering when the choruses break out. It’s just one of the ways that Coldplay feels too damn self-aware for their own good. A cynic would say that they know what it takes to move this slickly produced, focus group-tested product; that label execs and marketing divisions signed off on tracks that were just singsong enough to get people in the door but would never venture into daring or unexpected territory that might frighten consumers. But the optimist response is, that’s just kind of who Coldplay actually are.

Aside from the dogged encouragement verse that Big Sean adds to the saccharine “Miracles (Someone Special),” these songs lack any flavor that distinguishes them from previous servings. They all build slowly – “if it ain’t broke…” right? – into their climactic finales and then slowly lay down to their docile beginnings once again. In the process of mounting sound on sound, recycling the same lyrics and melodies in different octaves with only subtle variations, it’s all done as carefully as a soufflé. The painstaking craft demands impressive patience from Coldplay, but it also means that nothing ever really breaks through their wall of sound. Nothing will reach out and grab you here – anything that would have has been compressed, equalized and processed within an inch of its life so that it falls back in line.

But perhaps it’s unfair to ask Coldplay to be Black Flag or Frank Zappa or even Fleetwood Mac. They’re just doing what they’ve always done, and they perfected the recipe so long ago that they’re worried people might stop coming to their restaurant if they change the menu. And in fairness, with its refreshingly familiar list of elements, this latest serving is sure to please longtime listeners just as much as a minestrone soup from their favorite diner. On album opener “All I Can Think About Is You,” bubbling snare drum reverb immediately conjures a sense of space before the grand piano chords wash over a sleepy verse. There’s no way a listener would think this is the best song ever, but it’s safe and warm, and conjures so many smile-inducing memories that fans just love it for what it is – aural diner soup.

Much like its name sake toy, “Kaleidoscope” mostly rearranges the colorful, familiar, pleasurable elements that will no doubt please fans. But with each additional turn of the tube, there’s only so much amusement that can be derived from such a predictable and simplistic plaything. Odds are that listeners will soon put this momentary distraction on the shelf and forget that it’s even there.
Kaleidoscope is available on Apple Music July 14.