Coldplay are the kind of band who you either love or hate, it’s as simple as that. In the four years since the band released the extremely poppy Mylo Xyloto, they’ve gone from being one of Britain’s most exciting and innovative bands to, well, being the same thing on an international scale. Although you may argue that the band could’ve gone in a far ‘better’ direction after Mylo Xyloto, you could counter that by stating pure facts. Commercially, Coldplay have played all the right cards. Musically, they’ve almost done the same. There’s been impressive tracks (True Love, Charlie Brown), new directions (Midnight) and a handful of blips (hi, A Sky Full of Stars), and now the band have put out another collection of songs to complete it. A Head Full of Dreams is Chris Martin and co.’s 7th studio album, and it builds on the story of Coldplay in a way which is equal parts predictable and exciting. Read on for a full album review.
The album opens on a subtle fade-in, with the title track A Head Full of Dreams giving the album a powerful injection of energy. An intro filled with twinkling keys and ambient synth drones quickly sees itself in a race with Guy Berryman’s pulsating bass, before he and the rest of Coldplay’s instrumental core (percussionist Will Champion and guitarist Jonny Buckland) join in and accompany Chris Martin’s ever-hopeful lyrics. It’s the first of many instances on the record that demonstrate Coldplay’s end-goal this time round: to have fun. A Head Full of Dreams is the ultimate album opener, taking elements which are quintessential to Coldplay (anthemic vocals and Buckland’s input) and putting them up against new, funk-laden sounds. It wouldn’t be a Coldplay song without some sort of anthemic reach (as well as an almost compulsory craving for confetti), meaning that A Head Full of Dreams ticks all the boxes in the book. Birds encompasses programmed percussive elements alongside Buckland’s twinkling guitars, before Martin’s vocals well and truly take control. Occasional grandiose flourishes are the norm here, making Birds the kind of song you want to thrust out of the lowest corner of your lungs. “We don’t need words, we’ll be birds” sings the (usually heartbroken) frontman smoothly, with lilting acoustic guitars underpinning the verses so faintly that you’ll forget they were even there. On Birds, it seems like Martin’s mission is to uplift people, an act which he more than succeeds in. Just like A Head Full of Dreams, Birds is an extremely energetic track which basically makes you want to dance. As the track morphs into a twinkling close, everything suddenly comes to a halt as faint bird noises take over.
In the past, Coldplay haven’t been afraid to collaborate with pop royalty. On Mylo Xyloto, the band teamed up with Rihanna, whereas a remixed version of older track Lost saw them work with Jay Z. Now, on the RnB-tinged Hymn for the Weekend, the band have partnered up with Beyoncé. The track, a surefire single simply due to its mainstream sensibilities, sounds oh so wrong and oh so right at the same time. “I’m feeling drunk and high, so high” isn’t the kind of lyric we’re used to hearing Martin sing, so it sounds slightly out of place for the usually clean frontman to sing about getting drunk and high. Not that this matters too much, though. Instrumentally, the track flitters between hints of classic Coldplay, yet RnB pop definitely overpowers in this case. Beyoncé’s input sees her sing one or two lines over and over at most, with the track having sounded just as good without her. Heading into more comfortable territory, Everglow utilizes a combination which Coldplay have profited from so often – heartbreak lyrics and a piano. The only thing which sets Everglow apart from most Coldplay ballads, though, is that Martin’s former partner Gwyneth Paltrow sings backing vocals. Everglow is a beautiful track, taking some of Coldplay’s best elements and combining them for an ultimate lights-in-the-air moment. “It feels like the end of the world” sings Martin, his tender voice almost tearing up during the chorus. If Everglow doesn’t touch you in a way not even Adele can manage, then something might be wrong with your tear ducts.
Shying away from the heartbreak and disappointment is Adventure of a Lifetime, the album’s lead single. When this song came out, everything you used to know about Coldplay basically changed. Did they replace Jonny Buckland and Guy Berryman with Chic? Did Arcade Fire’s percussion section feature? And why is Martin so, so happy? All of these questions really don’t matter, though, because for however many elements there are that sound unlike Coldplay, there are tons more which remind us why this band are so good at reinventing themselves. “Alive again”, as Martin himself puts it. Berryman and Buckland are the stars here, their jangly guitars and funky bass really holding the track together. It’s the best song on the record, and potentially even one of the best of the year. It’s followed swiftly by Fun, a collaboration with Tove Lo. It’s the second collaboration on the record, and by far the best one so far. It’s slower, with the intro slightly reminiscent of 2011’s Us Against the World. Drummer Champion once again opts for an electronic kit, something which he’s become far fonder of the last years. “I know it’s over, a parting in the waves” sings Martin, his vocals underpinned by Buckland and Champion. Berryman seems slightly absent here, save for during the chorus. On a collaborative front, Tove Lo is far more present than Beyonce was on Hymn for the Weekend. She spends the second verse onwards utilizing her sultry vocals to contrast Martin’s more nasal tone. “From the top of the world, top of the waves” sing the pair, before Kaleidoscope changes tack quickly. It’s essentially two minutes of ambient background sounds and a piano, with Rumi’s poem Guest House being spoken over by Barack Obama. Army of One’s dubby undertones are prevalent here, with Berryman’s darker basslines once again letting the Scotsman shine. “Pyramids shine, Babylon too” sings Martin, before the chorus comes across as extremely uplifting and downtrodden at the same time. Just like your average Coldplay track, Army of One is slower, yet this time round it really packs a punch.
As the album slowly trudges towards an end, Amazing Day pops up out of nowhere and injects a real sense of subdued happiness into your veins. Its massive melody and piano line combine so beautifully that you almost want to cry, that’s how lovely this song is. Amazing Day is the ultimate ballad, even more so than Everglow. It sounds timeless, so much so that you couldn’t place a timestamp on it if you’d line it up alongside the likes of The Scientist, Yellow, or even Fix You. Once Champion and Martin both come together for a chanted, extremely anthemic section, you get this sense of euphoria and reassurance. It’s almost as if the song is telling you that nothing can, or will, go wrong in life. “In your arms I just wanna sway, amazing day” claims Martin, his vocals sounding less fragile and more reassured. If you still haven’t cried by the end of Amazing Day, then go see a doctor, please. The instrumental interlude Colour Spectrum sounds less exciting, using more ambience and twinkling keys to justify the reasons for sampling earlier inputs from Obama and Beyoncé. Penultimate track Up & Up, the longest at almost seven minutes, sounds like a culmination of everything which preceded it. It’s a mid-tempo, swaying cut which takes a while to get on its feet, absolutely soaring once it does. A gospel choir feels compelled to “ooh” in the background, however once you overcome the cliché of gospel choirs it actually does sound pretty uplifting. Noel Gallagher even features at one point, pulling his dusty guitar out of the bag for a guest spot which actually doesn’t sound as bad as Noel Gallagher used to make Coldplay out to be. The album comes to an end on Miracles, which was recently used in the Angelina Jolie-directed Unbroken. “From up above I heard the angels sing to me these words” sings Martin, with the subsequently coming to a sweet, albeit not grandiose, ending.
On A Head Full of Dreams, Coldplay look set to divide plenty of opinion. Gone are the old elements which made Coldplay so unique, original and special; in are pop sensibilities, guest stars and a more manufactured sound. The good thing about the record, though, is that Martin and co. have ensured that they won’t be completely swallowed up by the pop world. Sure, they seem to be more American than they are English nowadays, but they’re still the kind of band who know how to stay true to themselves. A Head Full of Dreams has some very special moments (Birds, Adventure of a Lifetime, Amazing Day), but it also has the kind of downfalls (Hymn for the Weekend, the instrumental interludes) which the good moments do well to silence. You may not love Coldplay any more because of it, but A Head Full of Dreams isn’t going to make you despise them either.
A Head Full of Dreams is out now. Watch the video for Adventure of a Lifetime below.