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"People of the Pride": wait, this is Coldplay? ...Actually, it totally is

While a departure from their known sound, this highlight from their new album — over a decade in the works — fits the band's character.

I'd been looking forward to October 15 for months. When it finally arrived, I embraced everything that came with it.

That "everything" was Coldplay's ninth studio album, Music of the Spheres. As a full-fledged and unabashed Coldplay fan, it was hard for me to avoid the leaks and spoilers, or to not get in that first listen before I finished my midterm paper early this morning. Eventually, upon returning home for the weekend, I went to my room, closed my door, shut my eyes, primed myself with a pre-album concept playlist (yes, really — and I wrote somewhat brief liner notes for it too), and finally listened to the album in full.

I have a lot of thoughts about every track on the album — and I may write a track-by-track review sometime soon — but to keep things semi-brief for this post, I'll say that I was very pleased with Music of the Spheres as a whole. Even though it was far less conceptual than I had hoped it would be, every track was an enjoyable listen; there are no playlist skips to be found among the full songs, and the transition pieces are all quite good too. It's also a good length for an album: at just under 42 minutes, it's actually Coldplay's shortest base studio album, but it feels complete while lacking any sort of filler, even in its super-pop-friendly singles.

In deciding which track from the album would be the Senior Year Soundtrack entry for the band (remember, I can't repeat any performers in this project), I narrowed it down to my two favorites from my first listen: album cuts "Humankind" and "People of the Pride." While I still don't know which of the two is truly my favorite, I've chosen to write about "People of the Pride," because it's the album's most intriguing slice to me, a song that's both very Coldplay and very un-Coldplay at the same time.

The making of "People of the Pride" has three distinct starting points. I'll start with the most recent one, because it's heard in the song's first moments, and work backwards in time. The brass and trumpet intro began its life not with Coldplay, but with their A Head Full of Dreams-era collaborator Beyoncé. The intro can be heard in a slower form as a transition piece and intro to "End of Time" in Beyoncé's performance at Global Citizen Festival 2015, a festival Chris Martin curated. Beyoncé's musical director Derek Dixie composed the introduction Coldplay used, and he furthered those ideas in the bridge — which occurs in an interesting spot in the track, between the third verse and the second break. The bridge also contains the clearest indication of another of the song's starting points: Australian singer Sam Sparro's sorely underrated 2009 song "Black and Gold." The second half of the chord progression from "Black and Gold" is very closely mirrored in "People of the Pride"'s bridge. While one could also argue that Sparro's triplet feel was also taken by Coldplay for their track, that quality actually comes from the track's first stage of development, which occurred before "Black and Gold was released."

The earliest starting point of "People of the Pride," its truest genesis, was a demo from Coldplay's Viva la Vida era in the late 2000s known as "The Man Who Swears," which leaked onto YouTube in the early 2010s alongside others of its kind. The lyrics, melody, and chord progression to the demo's verse — including a somewhat rare curse from Chris Martin — remain nearly fully intact in "People of the Pride." Multiple elements of the demo's chorus also made it to the final track's bridge, including about half of its melody and the lyrics of of "Heaven is a fire escape / You try to cling to in the dark." In addition, the final song's aforementioned triplet feel and Jonny Buckland's last guitar riff both come from "The Man Who Swears"; Chris Martin can be heard humming the latter on three occasions during the demo. Having known "The Man Who Swears" and other Viva la Vida-era demos, I couldn't believe my ears when I heard "People of the Pride" as its first live videos trickled onto the internet. It's not unheard of by any stretch for a band to look back to a demo for inspiration, but the fact that we as listeners are able to listen to its original form makes hearing what it became so much more gripping and hard to believe.

In "People of the Pride," Coldplay take the three aforementioned musical strands and unites them with a sound heavily owing to the glam-like space rock of Muse. Buckland's main guitar riff (with bassist Guy Berryman adding to its low end) very much sounds like something Matt Bellamy could have played, and the swells behind the riff make me think of Muse's mid- to late-2000s sound (Black Holes and Revelations and The Resistance), which is never a bad thing. Coldplay also channels the glam influences in their building toward the bridge in the second half of the second verse. There's a raw, tribal sort of feeling to Will Champion's reverberating drums and the grunts behind them, a feeling that fits the very Viva la Vida-like lyrics of "There's a sewing up of rags / Into revolution flags" — lyrics which capture "People of the Pride"'s theme of political action and uprising (no pun intended, Muse). Its first verse speaks of a dictator, who "swears he's god" and proclaims that "unbelievers will be shot," and who "makes us march around" according to his whims. The second verse's "turning of the tide" moves the song's point of view into the populace, who "stand up to be counted" and band together against their oppressive leader. The bridge continues these themes while solidifying the track as standing with the gay rights moment: "We'll all be free to fall in love / With who we want," Martin sings near the end of the bridge. The gay pride context was inferable from the song's title, but its final unique lyrics hitting right at the heart of the matter really brings the point home.

Coldplay have always been a band to preach for unity and equality, and they're also no stranger to talk of activism through songs like "Violet Hill" and "Trouble in Town." They are also a band that have never stayed stagnant in their sound; every album sounds different from the others, and often every track has a characteristic sound not replicated on others from the same record. Through Coldplay's sonic adventurousness, the track's lyrical message — crafted through Chris Martin's unmistakeable poetic — and their drawing on one of their most beloved eras, "People of the Pride" turns out to be a track very much in tune with the band's M.O. I'm excited to see where the song and Music of the Spheres as a whole takes the band in the long run, and in the shorter term I'm giddy at the thought of hearing the new songs live on next year's tour.


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