On the title track of Coldplay’s seventh album, A Head Full of Dreams, singer Chris Martin works a vocal hook that resembles a U.K. football chant.
Clearly Martin and his mates have their eyes on stadiums where they don’t have to let lyrics get in the way of a big vibe.
A Head Full of Dreams is electronically ambitious and unabashedly upbeat. Coldplay’s pairing of the Norwegian production duo Stargate with longtime producer Rick Simpson pays off big time. The album is as kaleidoscopic and colourful as its dayglo poster cover art suggests.
The weird thing is that as expressive and mood altering as this record is, songs aren’t easily identifiable. There are early warning signs and sounds that this is going to be a different type of Coldplay album.
Beyoncé’s vocal turn on Hymn for the Weekend goes for the celestial but fails to get truly cosmic. In a nod to Coldplay’s piano driven past, Martin plays a lovely piano figure as he sings out a moody ballad enhanced by the guitar effects of Jonny Buckland.
The album’s yearning spirit comes together on Adventure of a Lifetime, a latter-day disco track that’s moved along by bassist Guy Berryman’s insistent thump and clever scratching and hooks from Buckland.
The influence of Stargate can be felt in the levity of the Adventure of a Lifetime’s hook, a nod to the prevalence of Scandinavian art-pop of recent years. The song’s unique character and captivating left-of-centre sound illuminate the album for awhile but other songs fall flat in comparison.
Fun (featuring Tove Lo) aspires to the same glorious sphere but seems empty; likewise with the spoken word snippets in Kaleidoscope. When they contain their ideas within a tune, the band can sound inspired.
Some of A Head Full of Dreams is lost in a meandering, directionless space, where hooks, riffs and melodies are obscured. Army of One starts with an identifiable grandeur, reminiscent of the Coldplay of old, but halfway through gets derailed by an electro-pop tangent. These indulgences don’t help the songs achieve strong impact, if that’s their aim.
One has to credit Coldplay for a willingness to take the time to search for interesting sounds and an open-mindedness for re-invention. It keeps things interesting and expectations can be confounded.
Amazing Day has a hint of the melodic uplift that’s central to much of Coldplay’s sound and there’s an added texture of layering for enhancement that serves the song. Tracks like these suggest that Coldplay is still listening.
That, and an Oasis-style guitar from Noel Gallagher on Up & Up rescue A Head Full of Dreams from being a victim of good intentions – it’s impossible to dislike such a happy recording.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is The Morning Star’s longtime music critic. He writes about new releases in his column Street Sounds every Friday.