Album of the Week: Coldplay, 'A Head Full of Dreams'

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Coldplay, 'A Head Full of Dreams'
Coldplay, 'A Head Full of Dreams' (Atlantic/Parlophone)

Coldplay made an album that is exactly what you would expect from England's biggest pop-rock act. They created an album to lift up their career by writing songs with an optimism absent from their previous release. A Head Full of Dreams has all the star power and production needed to inspire you. If this album had been released 10 years earlier, it might have groundbreaking. Today, it just meets your expectations.

It's the expectations of Chris Martin that are the problem, and could be the reason why Coldplay have become the targets for snarky Gen X'ers and Millennials alike. Their debut album defined the new sound of the century. It was understated, sincere, and very British. It appealed to pop-music fans but it was far from what you would find on pop radio. It was a relief from the rap-rock and nu-metal that dominated the mainstream, and it appealed to college-radio programmers who might have preferred The Beta Band over Radiohead.

As the band achieved commercial success and Martin became a celebrity, the conversation about their music fundamentally changed for the worse. You can't listen to their seventh studio album without thinking of Martin's disappointing duet with Rihanna or his "uncoupling" from Gwyneth Paltrow. It's hard to ignore his life in the tabloids. If you could, you might remember that this is a band that worked with Brian Eno and once had a sense of humor about their music (look up their satirical video as The Nappies).

Instead, Martin has become the epitome of a celebrity frontman, and it's easy to brush aside that the band are still credited for writing and performing the songs on A Head Full of Dreams. Coldplay do not get credit for their musicianship because Martin is like a tractor beam pulling you away from what you like about the band. The album's title track and "Adventure of a Lifetime" have all the trappings of the band's evolution into pop music. Martin's voice rides high above a production that sounds ready for the overdue U.S. stadium tour.

"Hymn for The Weekend" and "Fun" remind you of the band's access to elite pop icons with Beyoncé and Tove Lo as featured vocalists. If you hadn't come to expect high-profile guest appearances, it might have given the album an interesting dimension. Instead, neither performance enhances songs that could have been better without the added star power. It's a distraction from an album that contains some of the most intriguing work of the band's career. For example, the hidden track, "X Marks The Spot," is surprisingly great.

The themes on A Head Full of Dreams are less personal than last year's Ghost Stories. Chris Martin sounds like he has a message for the world that goes beyond his love life. Songs like "Everglow" and "Amazing Day" sound as if they could be lost tracks from A Rush of Blood to the Head. They have all the ingredients of a great Coldplay song. They work as palate cleansers between sample-based songs like "Army of One" and the overly ambitious "Kaleidoscope," the latter track being the most disorienting piece of the album.

"Kaleidoscope" samples President Obama's voice recorded at the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was a victim of the June 2015 shooting in Charleston, S.C. It's unclear whether the use of President Obama's voice singing "Amazing Grace" helps accomplish Martin's intention on making an uplifting album for the masses, or is a genuine attempt at a political statement.

There are rumors that this will be last album from Coldplay. It that's true, A Head Full of Dreams would be a good exit for the band as a final body of work.

Audience ratings for this album


Among The Current's listeners who submitted a rating for this album, 38 percent gave it 5 out of 5 stars, while 50% were at the opposite end of the scale. Poll closed at 12 noon on Friday, Dec. 11.

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