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Coldplay surprises with ‘Midnight’

| Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WEB_Banner_ColdplayEmily Hoffmann
Yesterday, Coldplay dropped a new single, “Midnight,” right out of the interweb vortex with no warning whatsoever. As I type, the video has yet to reach over a half-million views on YouTube, a mere drop in its ocean of music videos by major bands. It’s yet unknown if the track is part of an upcoming album. Given that the band hasn’t released a full-length in three years, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising. The single, however, is a different story.

“Midnight” doesn’t sound like a single. It has no memorable chorus. Its lyrics are obscured by Chris Martin’s breathy, soaring delivery. Its one build-up is acutely restrained and controlled. Instead, a pulsating, soft beat and an airy, persistent guitar line stand at “Midnight”’s heart. Glimpses of Coldplay’s past material — a gorgeous, sparse guitar line and a melody that echoes Paradise — peer out of the atmosphere, but never hang around for long. Instead, the song slowly and subtly shifts from place to place. The song alternates between pure atmosphere and angelic vocal verses before finally building into a subdued instrumental trance, which disintegrates back into a last verse.

It would be easy to say that Coldplay is piggybacking here. The vocal effects on Chris’s voice sound very, very similar to those James Blake and Bon Iver have brought to prominence. But given the instrumentation, the form and the consistent beat at the heart of “Midnight”, that just wouldn’t be fair. Coldplay’s new single is simply a piece of very accessible, restrained ambient music crafted by a rock band. Every obvious element of Coldplay’s pop songs has been trimmed away to leave a pulsing heart — one of energy and smooth aesthetic beauty.

It’s an extremely bold maneuver. If released by a band any smaller, this song would have zero chance of being played on the radio. It has no “logo,” no recognizable trademark like a catchy chorus or intro to help sell it to an audience. It’s calm and patient, two elements in opposition to the dance and rap so commonly found on today’s Top 40. No matter what is said about “Midnight,” it’s hard to claim this is any sort of sell-out or cash grab, because “Midnight” is in no way a pop song.

There’s only one thing stopping me from proclaiming “Midnight” an extremely important piece of music in today’s pop scene: It’s not that memorable. What Coldplay is doing here is certainly going to be new to many of their fans. But in the genre of electronic music, “Midnight” doesn’t stand out. There are many artists making songs featuring beautiful airy vocals, smooth atmospheres and almost-danceable beats. The songs that are prominent in the genre – “Hiders” by Burial and Kindness’s cover of “Swingin’ Party” come to mind – exude strong emotions, whereas “Midnight” seems to just roll along on some vaguely epic, but inexpressive, adventure.

Coldplay’s single marks a new step for the band, one in a rather interesting direction that would bring a new type of music to mainstream spotlight. However, “Midnight” as a song is somewhat unspectacular, presenting an interesting sound without especially remarkable elements. Hopefully we’ll get the best of both worlds on an album soon to come.

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