So before we dive into this new track, let’s put Coldplay into perspective. There are very few bands who have reached this level of success that have maintained a consistent “cool factor,” and this one is hardly an exception. After the success of their sophomore album, A Rush Of Blood To The Head (still their greatest work to date,) the British group found themselves at a crossroads, seemingly having to choose between following a path similar to U2 (commercial juggernauts, stadium-filling, radio friendly) and one similar to Radiohead (experimental, critically lauded, unanimously respected.) Instead, they surprised us all by taking a detour previously trail-blazed by their Britpop forefathers Oasis and Blur. Coldplay certainly went commercial, but on their own terms, refusing to fully resign themselves over to pop music while still refusing to be ashamed of their ability to write the “perfect pop song.” Sure, it landed them international mega hits like “Fix You,” “Viva La Vida,” and “Paradise,” but it also landed them Grammy awards and a couple headlining slots at Glastonbury. That’s not particularly a bad place to be if you want to really get down it, but it certainly doesn’t make them the “indie heroes” we were anticipating. At any given moment, Coldplay could come out with the biggest hit or the most respected rock album of the year, and we all know it.
However, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking they have a perfect track record. Whereas their first two albums (the aforementioned A Rush Of Blood…, preceded by Parachutes) were indeed a perfect one-two punch a la Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, it all gets a little hazy from there. While their third album, X&Y, was a largely-overproduced mixed bag, their fourth, Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends was a gluttonous success; both were records that left their fanbase feeling uncool, but the public feeling self-righteously “alternative.” However, their last effort, Mylo Xyloto, was, on the whole, a massive failure; there just didn’t seem to be any middle ground. We couldn’t help but feel as though the band had officially run out of ideas, and even though they were still cranking out hits, their quality was undeniably substandard. Still, there were thankfully little gleams of hope tucked inside tracks like “Charlie Brown” and “Major Minus” that proved they still had something to offer, even if most of that was thwarted by their “business as usual” contribution to the latest Hunger Games soundtrack, “Atlas.” It’s from this place, though, that Coldplay are really going to be given the proper chance to win us back over.
Somewhat abruptly. the band has unleashed a new track, “Midnight.” They haven’t officially declared it a single or even a track from their upcoming sixth studio album, but the buzz and air of mystery that made them so endearing in the first place is back. We’re not going to pay much attention to the fact the track was debuted through a trippy and unnerving music video, but focus more on the quality of the song itself. Within seconds, the immediate first reaction is inevitably going to be “Bon Iver,” but I’m not sure that’s actually the best parallel to draw. If anything, “Midnight” sounds more like an Imogen Heap outtake than anything Justin Vernon has ever done. Regardless, this is entirely new territory for Coldplay, a band who thrives on adding their own flair to the curve as opposed to simply being one step ahead of it. “Rock” isn’t a word that can ever really be used to describe the song, though, a sentiment that keeps them in step with alternative music’s current state of existence. Being able to say that is a beautiful thing, though, because for the first time in years, Coldplay feels like an alternative band again. They clearly aren’t going for having radio hit or stadium anthem this time around, and the end result is something truly intriguing and special.
When it comes right down to it, “Midnight” is unlike anything you’d expect to hear from Coldplay. Between Chris Martin’s hypnotically effected, multi-layered, borderline-inaudible vocals and the almost entire absence of any percussion (sans a metronome-like tick,) this atmospheric landscape rejects every trend they’ve come to bore us with. Through its all of its understated glory, “Midnight” dares to bring us close to a climax without pushing us over the edge, which is particularly uncharacteristic for the group. It’s clear that they have reached that point in their career that Oasis and Blur both did right around this time after a whirlwind run of “pop” success; they rebelled. If history is anything to go off of, they are about to begin one of their most important eras to date. If you still want to compare them to U2, let’s hope this is their Achtung Baby. If you still want to compare them to Radiohead, let’s hope this is their Kid A. The fittingly titled “Midnight” is going to leave all the bandwagon jumpers in the dust, and give real music fans something challenging to chew on for a bit. For that purpose alone, it’s praiseworthy. Maybe this is just a thinking piece and maybe it doesn’t resemble what’s to come, but this is a faith-restoring track for a band that was so desperate for one. Let’s all hope this is all leading to something explosive and exciting.