Last week, Coldplay surprised us by randomly dropping a video for a strange new track called “Midnight” (Review HERE) without any real explanation as to what was going on. It was a brilliant move to mount excitement, but with a track as “out there” (for them) as it was, and a video as borderline terrifying as it was attached to, we were all left scratching our heads. This morning, they thankfully provided clarity on the situation by announcing their new album Ghost Stories and unveiling its official lead single, “Magic.” Now that we actually know the game plan, we have a little easier context to put both tracks into, but we’re still coming from the same place as we are with “Midnight” originally. Coldplay is still the band that is in charge of their own destiny and is still constantly approaching crossroads and rolling the dice on direction they choose to go. Sometimes they’ve landed on greatness like Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends, and other times they’ve come up short, like with the uninspired Mylo Xyloto. If “Midnight” is anything to go off of, it’s looking like the band is thankfully going down the right path again. To further clarify the situation, however, we have to investigate “Magic” with weary apprehension, but undeniable hope.
Right from the get-go, it’s clear that Coldplay have thankfully left the excess of their past two records behind almost completely. There’s nothing grand or pompous about the intro of the “Magic,” something contrary to what we’ve gotten overly used to expecting from a Coldplay single over the last decade or so. Instead, we’re gifted a light bass riff that grooves inside of hip hop-lite drum beat. They work together to lay the ground work for a simple, but relief-inducing “classic” piano part. The guitar is understated in a way that originally made the group endearing to begin with. Even Chris Martin’s vocals are reminiscent of the group’s early days, embodying a healthy timidness on the verge of either cracking or exploding. Long story short, “Magic” is a return-to-form Coldplay song through to the core. This could have easily been a leftover from their debut Parachutes that’s been given a sonic makeover. This go-around, the endearing haziness has been reduced in favor of a rich crispness, but the beautiful resonance is still there. The end result of it all is a track that could have made sense at any time over the last 30 (plus) years, and that’s when you know you’re onto something.
So what’s the downfall? Honestly, it mostly comes down perception. “Magic” could be one of the biggest hits of the year or it could be one of the year’s unsung heroes. It would probably be a good thing if it fell into the latter category, simply to help the band regain a bit of their cool again, but that’s just how the “hipster mentality” works. Despite its importance in a strictly Coldplay context, this isn’t as groundbreaking a track as you’d hope for from a group that’s continued to be one of the biggest acts on the planet for over a decade. I think there could be a common misconception that they’re just “playing it safe,” but I see it as them learning from their mistakes. Looking over the 9-song tracklist to their upcoming Ghost Stories LP, and taking the two songs we’ve already heard for what they are, this record has potential to be their artistic redemption, if not just a reminder that they can still be true-to-form and push themselves into new territory while still giving us the restraint that made them so likable in the first place. It makes songs like “Clocks” feel that much more awe-inspiring and songs like “Paradise” that much more contrived. “Magic” could be the wind-up, or it could be the pitch, but either way, it’s clear that they’re aiming for the fence.