Coldplay’s ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’: Album Review

Carl Williott | December 4, 2015 8:30 am
For the past 15 years, Coldplay has been derided by critics and listeners who convinced themselves the band was a generic monolith that conquered the world with boredom. But that was a highly inaccurate representation.

Over the course of their last three albums alone, Coldplay took more stylistic strides and production risks than virtually every other blockbuster act of the last 10 years. 2008’s Viva La Vida expanded the band’s sonic palette, which then enabled them to go full-on technicolor Top 40 for 2011’s Mylo Xyloto. That was followed by Ghost Stories last year, a palate cleanser that stripped away most of the new tricks they’d accumulated since becoming pop juggernauts, refining the mope-rock of their debut into honest-to-god, devastating sadness. On seventh album A Head Full Of Dreams, they’re again forging ahead into new sound territories, but this time the bad habits are too much to bear, turning the journey into a slog. If Ghost Stories reminded people why they first fell in love with Coldplay, A Head Full Of Dreams will remind people why the band has invited so much scorn.

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The LP suffers from a glut of vaguely happy-sad, inert almost-anthems, but lead single “Adventure Of A Lifetime” and the title track rank among the best and most fun material of Coldplay’s late era. “A Head Full Of Dreams” kicks things off, employing a thumping groove and atmospheric guitars that find Jonny Buckland sounding Edge-ier than ever. “Birds” is another standout, a blend of twinkly power pop and new wave that gives a glimpse of an alternate universe in which Coldplay was influenced by The Strokes and Arcade Fire as much as U2.

The Beyoncé-assisted “Hymn For The Weekend” almost equals that energy, but it lacks the drama of “Princess Of China” and the show-stopping moment you’d expect from the queen. And regardless, the guys sound like total goobers trying to do the club swagger thing, like a drunk dad doing the rap dance du jour at a wedding. If nothing else, the song is proof of life before the AC mush of “Everglow,” though.

Coldplay’s best material was never subtle, always treating sadness and elation with a sense of majesty that made the music and lyrics feel Significant. But on Ghost Stories, Chris Martin used specific imagery for once, to depict a relationship’s implosion. That was essential, because without the aid of “Fix You”-like crescendos and swooping guitar lines, those feelings had to carry that LP. AHFOD zooms out once again, to the point of soft-focus blur, but this time the instinctual grandeur of the music falls flat and can’t prop up platitudes like “Life is a drink and love’s a drug” and “So how come things move on, how come cars don’t slow.”

And no amount of high-profile guests spots can hide it, especially when the collaborations feel like such afterthoughts: Appearances from Beyoncé, Merry Clayton, Noel Gallagher and Gwyneth Paltrow hardly register. Tove Lo‘s feature is the only one that actually feels like it serves the music and not the (seemingly earnest) kumbaya narrative the band has been pushing during the album rollout.

It’s only fitting, then, that A Head Full Of Dreams finishes with the flaccid “Up & Up,” bolstered by a choir comprising the foursome’s family and friends. Here Martin leaves listeners with one final piece of uplifting banality before signing off: “When you’re in pain / When you think you’ve had enough / Don’t ever give up / Don’t ever give up.” 

Their detractors never gave up, and now Coldplay has become the mythical, hate-able “Coldplay” that that faction has conjured all along. On the bright side, the under-appreciated X&Y is no longer the band’s worst album.

Idolator Score: 2/5

Carl Williott

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