Coldplay are back just one year after the sullen Ghost Stories; they promised us a lighter album and A Head Full Of Dreams is exactly that. The kind of light that can damage retinas.
The band have struggled to find a sound they are comfortable with since Viva la Vida. They have dabbled more and more with the pop/hip-hop formulae and collaborations with the leaders of the genre have failed to add any sparkle. They have brought in the Norwegian duo Stargate – known for their work with Katy Perry, Rihanna and S Club 7 – to help add that extra gloss. Last year’s Ghost Stories aside Coldplay have been trying to shed the tag of gloomy/bland, by dousing themselves in technicolour and aiming their songs to the stars. In fact, Chris Martin seems obsessed with the world above, mentioning the skies, stars, air, and all things upwards. So no guessing as to what his favourite Pixar movie is. AHFOD is almost shamelessly apologetic for the mundane Ghost Stories.
Musically they seem to be pillaging their record collections for ideas. The Noel Gallagher featuring ‘Up&Up’ is a lesser man’s ‘Come Together’ by Primal Scream. ‘Bird’ sounds rather like the chorus from The Strokes’ ‘Undercover Of Darkness’. ‘Everglow’ could literally be any ballad from their first two albums, and ‘Colour Spectrum’ seems to be influenced by Glee.
The title track is the strongest of the new material, and wouldn’t feel out of place on Mylo Xyloto and has the “woo hoo hoos” they have been loving so much since the Viva La Vida days. Of course everyone will be anticipating their second collaboration with a global R&B singer. This time it’s Beyonce who lends her harmonies to ‘Hymn For The Weekend’ which was written surely for the stadium tour of next year, with its crowd friendly “oh ha, oh ha” section. The album succeeds when the band do what they are best at; stripped back to their four instruments and simple guitar lines like on ‘Birds’ and ‘Miracles’ (on the deluxe edition of the album), again Martin is “floating high” (well of course he is) but this feels like the Coldplay we fell in love with over 15 years ago, who would declare Radiohead, Oasis and U2 as their musical influences, rather than seemingly being inspired by Daft Punk, Calvin Harris and Jason Derulo. Are all the members of Coldplay such devotees?
A Head Full Of Dreams feels like the climax of their pop exploration. The colourful optimism could be too hard for the more cynical of souls to swallow. A mixture of their two recent albums would have worked as a more contrasting, interesting collection. They could even name it Ghost Dreams. Even with some of the biggest names in music on board, they have only managed to make three of four tracks of their usual quality. With all the new hip-hop beats and disco guitars, they have failed to make an album that lives up to the quartet’s tag as “The Biggest Band on the Planet”. This is their weakest album so far. Although this is not a terrible record, it just seems so far away from their ’00s glory. Maybe it’s time to go back to basics boys?