Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 November 2019

Coldplay's 'Everyday Life': Is the two-disc album an analogue approach for a digital world?

The divisive band recently announced that its first LP in four years will be a two-parter, dropping on November 22

Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams
Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams

Despite somehow creating a sound so incredibly inoffensive it proves bitterly divisive, Coldplay’s commercial stature is beyond dispute – ranking among the 50 best-­selling musical artists ever, ­having sold more than 100 million records. The band’s last tour was the fourth highest-­grossing in history, banking about Dh1.8 billion.

Yet there remains one powerfully potent symbol of rock star success – and excess – the British quartet are yet to hurdle: the fabled double album. Until now, that is, with Coldplay recently announcing that its first LP in four years will be a two-parter, dropping on November 22.

Entitled Everyday Life – and with smatterings of Arabic on the cover likely to flare regional opinions – the band’s eighth release will see Coldplay join the pantheon of great pop and rock acts that, for better or worse, elected to unleash their sonic vision in the cumbersome two-disc format.

Despite the understandable scepticism of casual listeners looking for more killer than filler, releasing a double album is historically established as a sacred rite of passage – an uncompromising statement of intent and import which marks out a serious artist.

By trekking this hubristic path, Coldplay follow in the steps of 2LP sets by The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Prince, Sonic Youth, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Critics might argue that Coldplay’s Marmite-y mundanity doesn’t belong in such esteemed company – but more still might wonder if there’s any point even bothering to try, in an era when the very idea of a double album feels like a cute cultural curiosity. After all, how relevant or powerful is a two-disc set when the majority of music consumers will never hold a physical copy in the first place?

Is the two-disc album an analogue approach for a digital world?

If the double album has become a misty-eyed anachronism in an interconnected world, then this is surely something that has not escaped the band – or at least its marketing team. The nostalgic, offline methods utilised to drip-feed Everyday Life’s arrival reek of the self-conscious throwback.

In mid-October, the band hinted at their return with a series of grandiose monochrome posters, spotted in different cities, including Berlin, Hong Kong and Sydney, featuring the band chilling with German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Next, a spectacularly antiquated (and expensive) step: sending random fans a barmy letter – yes, in the post – offering greetings from “hibernation” and signed “chris, jonny, guy and Will Champion, esq”.

'Everyday Life', is the new two-disc studio album by the British band, Coldplay.
Everyday Life is the new two-disc studio album by the British band, Coldplay.

Then, on October 22, came the beguiling turn of revealing the track listing – split between two themed halves, Sunrise and Sunset – in a series of classified newspaper ads. This included tiny, home town British papers such as Devon’s Express and Echo, where news of Coldplay’s album reportedly sits between lodger requests and a car boot sale listing. Coldplay’s news ran above ads for bales of hay in North Wales’s Daily Post (where guitarist Jonny Buckland once had a holiday job). Higher profile global titles also took the booking, including The Sydney Morning Herald and Le Monde, presumably to make sure the internet caught up with the news.

Two days later, the World Wide Web was finally employed to share the only actual music from the album heard to date: the double single Orphans / Arabesque, presented as the virtual equivalent of a double A-side single.

The truth about double albums and why they don't always work

This twee, offline approach clearly works for a format which was always restricted by physical media constraints. In its heyday, the double album was necessarily defined by the length of the vinyl disc it was circulated on. Entering the ­longer CD age, the format already became conceptually confused, kept buoyant only through the misty-eyed recollections of baby boomer music editors – and a handful of ego-fuelled artists intent on climbing the twin-disc summit, whatever the cost.

But however seriously Coldplay might take its music, people simply don’t listen to records that way any more. In the digital age, an album can be any length, and even calling a release a double album feels kind of, well, irrelevant.

What’s more, streaming platforms such as Spotify might prove the dagger that finally kills off the idea of the album for good. Today, it appears more common for listeners to cherry pick tracks or turn to curated playlists for an instant musical hit – with a finger poised over the skip button for anything which doesn’t strike the synapses in seconds.

Gen-Zers are growing up with no nostalgic memory of saving up pocket money to buy a big new artist release, or ripping the wrapping like Christmas \Day and poring over the liner notes for creative clues. And even most millennial and Gen X musos I meet admit their streaming habits have changed; with the entire history of music at our fingertips, even the greatest purist will prove untethered by temptation. Why sit through a double album when there’s 50 million other tracks to be discovered, just a click away?

Arguably the last high-­profile double disc release was Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 2006 release Stadium Arcadium, the two-CD gatefold’s last stand, released in the days when ­record companies still dictated how music was heard. Two years later, Spotify had been launched, while two years earlier YouTube was just a click away.

These platforms have freed artistic visions from the kind of arbitrary restrictions physical media proffered and, crucially, better connected creators and consumers; today a steady stream of single tracks, EPs, mini-albums and mixtapes proliferate the online streaming landscape. Some receive the big-hype drop of yore, many more slip out unannounced, riding on nothing but their critical momentum.

With Everyday Life, Coldplay appear undeniably antiquated, in the thrall of an unhealthily aloof nostalgia, harking back to a day when their listeners were forced to queue up at record stores for their music. And without even a consensus on what runtime constitutes a double album, the grandiose gesture feels more than a little bit self-important. But once you’ve sold as many records as your heroes, what’s left to do but imitate them?

Updated: November 4, 2019 04:23 AM

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