Coldplay, a four-piece rock/pop band from London, have returned with their seventh studio record A Head Full of Dreams. Released just 18 months after 2014’s Ghost Stories, this album, like its predecessor, sees the band continue to evolve their musical sound.
This evolution is commendable. Many of Coldplay’s late 90’s UK peers (like Travis and Keane) have failed to maintain their initial success due to creative stagnation. Coldplay, on the other hand, have grown more popular with each release, combining critically acclaimed albums with commercially successful singles.
A Head Full of Dreams is the next phase of this evolution, and while change and risk-taking are something to be admired in any artist, it is important to ask would this album by another other artist sound as sweet.
A Head Full of Dreams has the structure of an “album”. There is the opening title track that acts as the beginning to a journey, signposting the direction while still sounding undeniably like Coldplay. “Kaleidoscope” acts as a spoken word interval at the half-way point of the record (and samples President Barrack Obama singing “Amazing Grace”). “Colour Spectrum”, the penultimate track, contains short samples of all the preceding tracks mashed together to lead beautifully into album closer “Up&Up”, featuring Noel Gallagher of Oasis fame on guitar, which serves its purpose as the journey’s conclusion with its dream-like fade out.
The album also has good songs, featuring fantastically talented artist, and it is all produced by one of the most commercially successful production duos of the 21st century. For the most part it is a solid record, however on occasion the band gets lost while trying to forge a new path for itself.
The album starts with an uplifting rush from the title track “A Head Full of Dreams” with its disco beat and funk percussion. This track welcomes back the distinctive reverbed guitar licks of Jonny Buckland to the band’s sound which, sadly, had departed for most of Coldplay’s last album Ghost Stories. Buckland is scattered all throughout A Head Full of Dreams to provide, apart from the distinctive sound of the lead vocalist, the clearest indication that you are listening to a Coldplay record.
The track also highlights the talents of the ever-versatile Guy Berryman on bass guitar, whose funky bass lines carries the song to a place unobtainable with an inferior bass guitarist. Drummer Will Champion as has his standout moment on the record on its opening track. Unfortunately for messers Champion and Berryman, they are essentially rendered useless for the remainder of the record, with Berryman’s bass guitar playing an insignificant role, and Champion essentially being replaced by a drum machine. Both victims of the band’s (Martin’s?) desired style for the album.
One look at the producers for the record and you could guess the musical style the band was aiming for. Stargate, a Norwegian duo, have produced top ten singles for Selena Gomez, Drake, Ne-Yo and Rihanna just to name a few. Their fingerprints are all over this record. Too much so in some areas.
One of the most controversial parts of the album is the third track “Hymn For the Weekend”. Its main piano part draws strong inspiration from Kanye West’s “Homecoming”, a song, unsurprisingly, that features Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, from West’s 2007 record Graduation. The song even features a chorus that is lyrically worthy of a rap track: “I’m feeling drunk and high”. Collaborators for the track are Beyonce, who provides generic backing vocals but sure fire commercial attention, and Avicii, who reunites with the band following their collaboration for “A Sky Full of Stars” from Ghost Stories. It is a good song but it, like “A Sky Full of Stars”, sounds a) nothing like Coldplay and b) nothing like the rest of the album it is on, highlighting production over-embellishment.
Another case of producer over-reach is the hidden track “X Marks the Spot”, which follows “Army of One”. It is perhaps the worst Coldplay song every recorded and marks the greatest bastadisation by Stargate on the album. Musically it is generic tripe and lyrically it is absolute shite. It would have done better to have remained hidden.
Beyond these two tracks, the album balances Coldplay’s sound with the more modern production techniques quite well. First single “Adventure of a Lifetime”, “Army of One”, second single “Everglow” and “Fun” manage to marry progression with familiarity. While “Adventure of a Lifetime” and “Army of One” are more sample-driven up-tempo tracks, “Everglow” and “Fun” are traditional Coldplay piano ballads with more subtle Stargate fingerprints in the background.
“Fun” features Tove Lo who, like Beyonce on “Hymn for the Weekend”, provides a female voice and not much else. Lo sings from the second verse onwards with Martin, singing the exact same words and the exact same notes, giving the track a nice effect but nothing substantial. Martin’s marital catharsis that dominated Ghost Stories rears its head again on “Everglow”. The track is presumably an ode to Martin’s ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow (they say people come, they say people go, this particular diamond was extra special/and though you might be gone, and the world may not know, still I see you celestial) and even features her on backing vocals.
“Bird”, “Amazing Day” and “Up&Up” see the production team take a back seat while the band take full control, with the latter two tracks providing a fantastic finish to the album. “Up&Up” (featuring Noel Gallagher) contains one of the musical highlights of the album with a majesticly melodic guitar solo, a true moment of raw musical quality too often buried under sequencers and samples on this record.
All in all it is another solid piece of work from the biggest band in the world (debatable I know, but when you have four consecutive nights booked at Wembley Stadium you are at least in the conversation). They still do a fantastic chorus, meaning the songs are accessible and will not struggle to find commercial radio love. The band must also be applauded for always pushing themselves to new areas. They could have easily settled with soft piano ballads and made a steady career for themselves. Instead they are still pushing boundaries, setting a fantastic example for other up and coming bands. However judged on its merits, this album goes wandering a little too much. This should not be a Stargate album with Coldplay playing the instruments but too often it sounds like just that. When the band’s talent is allowed to shine through though they still sound as good as ever. A Head Full of Dreams is a journey, and it is a journey worth taking.
Album Title: A Head Full of Dreams
Genre: Pop, Rock, Electro
Moments Of Stand Out: A band from the 90’s progressing their sound well into the 21st century
This review was written by Ellipsis