COLDPLAY has hinted that their new record could be their last, and while A Head Full of Dreams doesn’t reach the soaring, incandescent heights of Viva La Vida, it is more cohesive than Ghost Stories, which was a glorified Chris Martin solo project and a pretty tiresome listen. With their 15-year career possibly coming to a close, Dreams serves as a bit of a retrospective, embodying some of the anthemic arena rock that made them a global smash and also some of the more curious EDM influences that have marked their recent releases.
The album opens with the title track, an uplifting, bouncy jaunt of a song that shimmers and glistens satisfyingly. The piano solo at the end is vintage Coldplay, and should invoke a nice early 2000s nostalgia in listeners.
“Bird” is similarly strong, driven by an infectious bass line and chugging drums. It’s a bit more muted than a lot of A Head Full of Dreams, but Martin’s hushed vocals and Jonny Buckland’s glimmering guitar fit together as well as they always have.
Unfortunately, as the record goes on we’re subjected to some curious collaborations and genre mash-ups that don’t go down smoothly. Norwegian production duo Stargate pop up a few times, and while they work better with the band than Avicii did it is still ultimately an awkward fit.
“Hymn for the Weekend”, cringe-worthy title and all, is one of the record’s bigger misfires, and even Beyoncé’s presence doesn’t move the needle much. It’s overproduced and downplays Coldplay’s inherent chemistry, while putting too much emphasis on Martin’s uninspiring lyrics—“You know you make my world light up/When I was down, when I was hurt/You came to lift me up/Life is a drink, and love’s a drug,” he sings.
Coldplay has made some surprisingly successful forays into hip-hop, but on “X Marks the Spot” they again lose themselves in the production. The track replicates some of the bounciness of Viva La Vida’s “Lost”, but it lacks the orchestral swoon which made that song a hit, and the minimalist drums sound flat.
The band nails pop crossover on their Tove Lo collaboration “Fun”, which has all the chart-topping aspirations of “Hymn for the Weekend” but also retains the massive sound and melodrama that has made Coldplay the success they are.
Lead single “Adventure of a Lifetime” is equally catchy. The freewheeling guitar and uptempo groove give it tremendous replay value, and the track manages to make the band sound cool and carefree.
The record is bifurcated by a surprisingly powerful reading of Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” on “Kaleidoscope”. Set to a warm piano line and soft kick drums, the lines have an incredible poignancy and serve to illustrate the transition from Ghost Stories’ somberness to A Head Full of Dreams’ more positive outlook on life.
“Be grateful for whoever comes/Because each has been sent/As a guide from beyond,” the poem reads, and its message of embracing change and the unexpected can be seen as a nice summation of the group’s tenure and various shifts in style.
If you’ve closely followed the stories of Coldplay and Chris Martin, you can’t help but be happy about A Head Full of Dreams. The album doesn’t always work, but more often than not it sounds enough like vintage Coldplay to satisfy both diehards and casual listeners. B MINUS