Review – A Head Full of Dreams

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Well, everyone, this it it. After fifteen years since ‘Yellow’ graced our presence, and gave us one of the most equally loved and hated four piece rock groups since Nickelback, Coldplay are back with what we’re to believe is their final album: A Head Full of Dreams (AHFOD), hard on the heels of last year’s melancholic Ghost Stories.

If this really is the band’s swansong, is this the return of the “old Coldplay” die-hard fans have been craving for since X&Y? Or is it their final nail in the coffin to the notion that “all their music sounds the same”?

Those questions remain to be answered as opener ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ begins. Whilst it’s not the strongest title track they’ve written, it does set a good tone for what’s to come, with positive messages like “you can see the change you want to be when you get a head full of dreams” giving the song a strong, feel-good character. Couple that with Chris Martin’s airy yet powerful vocals, supported by a boisterous sound, and you have a good indication that the band are set on making a happy record, which Martin himself has confessed they have yet to create.

The title track’s positivity could be taken as a cause for concern that this record is simply a Mylo Xyloto Mark II; however, as it continues, Coldplay quickly defy expectations.

‘Birds’ gives the band a much-needed dose of indie rock to their repertoire, with Will Champion driving the song through a steady percussion beat, and a simple but memorable riff shared between guitarist Jonny Buckland and Guy Berryman on bass. Meanwhile, ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ situates the band in an unfamiliar R&B territory with a ‘Turn Down For What’-style club song, featuring none other than Queen Bey herself. The first of many collaborations on AHFOD, it’s undeniably a conscious effort to cement Coldplay’s place on the dance floor as last year’s ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ attempted to. Beyoncé and Martin form a fitting duo, with their “drink for me, drink for me”s standing their own against a bellowing chorus of trumpets. This sound doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the album’s production team Stargate are behind the likes of Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ and other R&B hits. And then there’s AHFOD’s lead single, ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ – undoubtedly one of the catchiest songs on the album, with its pop-like structure and rip-roaring electric guitar reminiscent of the strong cultural influence on the album.

What you have in these tracks is an attempt by Coldplay to ‘push the boundaries’ musically, arguably what they were known for in the Viva era, making some memorable pieces in the process, and possibly the “happy” songs Martin was looking for. However, as is the band’s standard, they’ve also acted as fitting disguises for a number of love stories. At other times in the album, Coldplay tears down this veil and exposes them in plain sight.

Everglow, written by none other than Martin’s ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, and the cited inspiration behind last year’s Ghost Stories, is a tale of a once-was relationship that’s left its mark in the form of a soaring ballad. Whilst the concept of an ‘everglow’ is difficult to grasp at first, stripping the song down musically allows it to become on of the more lyrically poignant songs on the album. The same can be said for Amazing Day, with its simple and dreamlike melody giving way for the story of two lovers sat on a roof, naming the stars and confessing their love for one another. Whilst it may be a bit of a standard love scenario, it doesn’t feel contrived, and is a good display of a band striving to be cool and different in some places, and not being afraid of who they are at their core in others.

Although that’s a blessing to listeners, it can also come across as a bit of a struggle in songs where they’re trying to expand themselves both musically and lyrically. Hidden track X Marks the Spot, whilst striving to be a contender to Daft Punk’s recent Random Access Memories, falls a bit flat with its sluggish beat, and attempts to divert from the usual lyrics of heartbeats and miracles with equally commonplace lines like “I just put my hands up to the sky, feeling like I’ve got a rocketship that I want to ride”. The album works when Coldplay make efforts to go beyond the musical style they’re used to, but not when they channel their efforts into doing this lyrically too.

That, ultimately, is what cripples the album in the end. Final track Up and Up, whilst it creates a good contender to Oasis’ Champagne Supernova, thanks in part to Noel Gallagher himself creating an appropriately grand guitar riff, the lyrics don’t do the large chorus sound and inspirational “we’re going to get it, get it together” message of the song justice. Coldplay have never been the strongest lyrical bands around, but that’s allowed for more attention to be focused on the good sound they create. Silly lyrics like “trying to empty out the ocean with a spoon” don’t, undermining the song in this case.
Overall, A Head Full of Dreams is littered with gems that demonstrate Coldplay’s willingness to experiment musically, and their ability to create simple but emotive pieces when they remain true to who they are lyrically, even if that isn’t the strongest. However, in places where they attempt to diverge from this, it weakens what they try to achieve musically, as was the case with Mylo Xyloto. If this is to be the band’s last album, it certainly isn’t their strongest, but it’s a fine example of how Coldplay perform best, and the fruitful results that can happen when they do.