If A Head Full of Dreams is Coldplay’s final album, as frontman Chris Martin once recklessly warned, then the 11-track whirlwind finds the mega-selling British quartet racing toward the setting sun in a Mad Max: Fury Road gas-guzzling Franken-heap. Martin puts on the confetti-spewing Technicolor dreamcoat he discarded for 2014’s downer Ghost Stories and returns on the band’s 7th studio release with a rejuvenated spirit — just in time to get creamed commercially by Adele.
A 13th-century Persian poet helped Martin snap out of his post-conscious uncoupling funk. More specifically, Rumi’s short and sweet “The Guest House” prompted the 38-year-old to accept the dissolution of his decade-long marriage to Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow. The poem reads like something a co-worker pins to her “Words” board on Pinterest, yet its elegant beckoning of the heart’s deepest fears rings true. The stanzas resonated with Martin’s fragile state of mind so completely, he had poet Coleman Barks peacefully recite a few lines on “Kaleidoscope”. The mid-album palate cleanser features stirring, but minimal piano accompaniment and a ballyhooed snippet of President Obama’s muffled rendition of “Amazing Grace” from his eulogy at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church for a pastor who was one of eight killed in last summer’s Charleston church shooting in South Carolina. Its inclusion is a little precious, especially on a release stuffed with turns (some barely perceptible) from a pop goddess, British rock royalty (Noel Gallagher on “Up and Up”), ex-wives, current girlfriends, and fair-haired progeny.
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Speaking of pop’s heavenly creature, Beyoncé lends her luminous presence to “Hymn for the Weekend”. Thanks to heavy production from Stargate, the Norwegian hit-makers behind some of Katy Perry and Rihanna’s finest, the sugary romper resembles everything Ryan Seacrest pushes out on his American Top 40 radio show. Without Martin’s distinctive falsetto, the track could belong to a bevy of American Music Award recipients. But, damn, it moves. They’re in talks to bring that pairing to the Super Bowl halftime show, an absolutely inspired choice.
Coldplay’s invitation to Stargate (Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen) to serve as co-producers stems from a long history of embracing the bile thrown by critics at the band. Pin a U2-lite tag on them and they enlist Brian Eno on 2008’s Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends to Grammy-winning smash success. Call them bland and they retaliate with the blissfully unaware “Hurts Like Heaven” from Mylo Xyloto — an audacious attempt at a rock opera. No matter how overblown or nonsensical Coldplay have progressively gotten since 2002’s watermark A Rush of Blood to the Head, as long as they deliver one gobsmacking single per album, they’re kings — and rightfully so. That’s how you build a career.
A Head Full of Dreams follows suit with first single “Adventure of a Lifetime”. Between Jonny Buckland’s curlicue guitar, clanking cowbell from Will Champion, and swirling disco beats anchored by Guy Berryman, it’s a hypnotic, coke-dusted dance party so indebted to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” that Martin should receive an honorary chrome helmet.
(Read: Coldplay’s Top 10 Songs)
While the band’s breakthrough “Yellow” and “The Scientist” cut to the bone with deceptively simple verses, Martin is fully immersed in a post-lyrics world at this point. The album’s title track opens with chimes signaling entry into a magical land — like opening the door to Willy Wonka’s gluttonous factory. But, the song wastes no time getting to its generic “oh oh oh-a-oh” chorus, the kind of thing that a glowing sea of wailers will shout up to the rafters of the stadiums the band visits on tour next year. A bit lazy, one could argue, but as Martin told the Wall Street Journal, he doesn’t want “anything to get in the way of the mood of the music … you can’t translate the melody into words.” He applies that logic on “Birds”, which bears a dumbfounding resemblance to The Cure’s “Close to Me”. (Instead of constricting with anxiety like the ’80s staple, it soars — pun intended.) Much like Radiohead (don’t freak out Thom Yorke disciples), the way in which Martin sings something matters more than what he’s singing, and here it’s enough.
If marital woes between Martin and Paltrow routed Ghost Stories down a maudlin path, their stance as Hollywood’s most friendly exes buoys A Head Full of Dreams. The blonde beauty never ventures too far from Martin’s mind. She even joined him in the studio on “Everglow”. Inspired by surfer wisdom, the piano-driven ballad minimizes her vocal contribution, but not the former couple’s bond. The wistful “Fun” palpitates like an unbroken heart while asking the Goop curator to reminisce about the good times. “Don’t say it was all a waste/ Didn’t we have fun?” Martin sings, with serene help from Tove Lo. Sure, there are some overwrought moments, some grandiose misses, but that’s not the point. Think of that line as the last note fades and just say yes.
Essential Tracks: “Adventure of a Lifetime”, “Fun”