For all of the flak that Coldplay and Chris Martin have received over the years — especially after the album release of Ghost Stories, perhaps the lowest point of their almost 20-year-old career — no one can accuse them of not pushing the boundaries and limits of the band’s musicality. Coldplay continues to do this in its new album, A Head Full of Dreams, in which its band members innovate their sound once again with catchy R&B and retro-pop melodies.
Shifting from the moody ambiance of “Parachutes” to the baroque art pop of “Viva la Vida” or “Death and All His Friends” to the more electronic-inspired sound of Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay has never been afraid of experimenting. In its experimentation, however, Coldplay would often create works that were just more palatable, watered-down versions of the music that it was influenced by. Coldplay is a band that, while musically and sometimes conceptually ambitious, cannot escape the curse of popular mediocrity.
Perhaps Coldplay has become aware of that fact as well — A Head Full of Dreams, in contrast with the muted and somber atmosphere of Ghost Stories, is bright and colorful. It’s a reunion with infectious melodies, with Coldplay’s trademark soaring guitar riffs and Martin’s optimistic vocals.
A Head Full of Dreams opens with its eponymous track, in which the catchy disco beats and “whoa-oh” choruses set the tone for the rest of the album. The band flexes its uptempo instrumental chops in “Army of One” and “Adventure of a Lifetime” — the grandiose soundscapes enrapture and woo with airy synths and echoing electric guitar. It is in these tracks where Coldplay is at its best.
A Head Full of Dreams also features an impressive list of album guests — including Martin’s ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, poet Coleman Barks, Beyoncé and even Barack Obama. Despite its illustrious group of cameos, Coldplay still remains the dominant voice. The others are delegated to unobtrusive background vocalizations that complement their respective tracks while keeping the focus on the band.
“Hymn for the Weekend,” Beyoncé’s guest track, is the strongest of the album. Her minimalist harmonies lead into bubbly piano melodies and brass cowbell instrumentations, and then Martin’s raw and soulful singing — his most powerful in A Head Full of Dreams — takes over as he synchronizes with bass lines and Beyonce’s muted vocals.
Chris Martin has alluded to A Head Full of Dreams as the band’s final album. If it is, it’s perhaps the perfect documentation and homage to the nature of the band’s long career. A Head Full of Dreams is sonically sweet and rather easy to listen to, but despite its pleasant qualities, the album remains forgettable and mostly unremarkable as a whole, just like Coldplay.