USA Today DECEMBER 3, 2015 - by Marco della Cava


Chris Martin wears an impish grin, a cross between a kid just let out of school for the summer and a dog newly liberated from his kennel.

At first glance, the reason could be the french fries he's scarfing down at an outdoor chicken eatery or perhaps his nine-year-old son Moses's fresh flag-football team victory. But ask a few questions about Coldplay's seventh album, A Head Full Of Dreams, out December 4, and the answer blossoms like a rose.

"That this is our job after sixteen years of being together is simply a miracle, I'm so grateful for it and I don't take it for granted," says frontman and pianist Martin, thirty-eight, who recently sat down with USA Today along with guitarist Jonny Buckland, thirty-eight, bassist Guy Berryman, thirty-seven, and drummer Will Champion, thirty-seven.

"Sometimes we weren't sure where we fit in (musically). But with this album, we're embracing the fact that we don't have to fit in anywhere," Martin says. "We're allowed to listen to (Beyoncé's) Single Ladies, we're allowed to listen to Champagne Supernova (by Oasis) or Good For You by Selena Gomez or The Pogues. It's all OK."

It may be more than just OK. A Head Full Of Dreams crackles with a dance energy that stands in contrast to the band's last effort, the brooding and tour-less Ghost Stories. Dreams song titles telegraph the mood: Fun, Amazing Day, Up&Up.

There's no better example of this new Coldplay vibe than this album's first single, Adventure Of A Lifetime, a joyful guitar-driven shot of summer in winter that recalls Daft Punk's 2013 disco-tribute triumph, Get Lucky. The new video for Adventure features the band as computer-generated apes. A recent The Voice taping ended with ape-clad dancers grooving on stage with the British foursome, pure infectious jungle boogie.

For Martin, Adventure encapsulates the band's newfound respect for each other. "I'm so happy it's the first song out there, because it's a real band piece," he says, switching from fries to a bar of chocolate. "As a listener, the singing is the last thing you're think about."

While Martin's distinctive and often soaring voice remains unmistakable throughout Dreams, there was a deliberate group effort on this project to slightly mute his contribution. "If I may speak for the band, sometimes you need a break from the singer," he says with a laugh.

Conversations with all four Coldplay members sketch out the band's patchwork approach on Dreams. While Martin did offer up some nearly complete musical ideas, most songs came out of jam sessions in London or Los Angeles, whose results were then worked on separately by each musician. Berryman says the band wound up with "six versions of the title track, each one musically unrecognisable from the other. Which means come time for a concert, we have to go learn the version we opted for."

Once the tracks for this new release took shape, the band presented them to Stargate, the successful Norwegian pop producers Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Storleer Eriksen. The duo, who've crafted hits for the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna, overlaid their unique sonic palette on Coldplay's songs, adding staccato vocals, symphonic interludes and simple silence.

"Stargate's biggest skill is finding space for things," Champion says. "As a band, we tend towards thick and dense sounding things. Their skill was boiling things to a bare minimum." Adds Berryman: "They work in a genre that isn't quite ours. And we were trying to go somewhere different."

Contributing to this Rik Simpson-mixed effort were special guests such as Noel Gallagher (ex-Oasis and now High Flying Birds), who provides guitar work on Up&Up; Swedish singer Tove Lo, vocals on Fun; and even ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow and current flame, model Annabelle Wallis, vocals on Everglow and Up&Up, respectively.

Arguably the biggest name lending an assist is Beyoncé. What did she contribute?

"You mean apart from her god-like talent?" Martin says of the singer, who lent her silken pipes to Hymn For The Weekend and Up&Up. "She made our album ninety percent better. And we were already twenty percent good. So now we're like one-hundred-and-ten percent the band we used to be. You do the math."

Berryman adds that none of this high-powered help would have made a difference if the band members had not been welcoming of outside input. "We're not fighting to prove anything to ourselves or to each other or to the wider masses," he says.

After a long career peppered with a few monster successes - notably 2008's Brian Eno-produced Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends, that year's best-selling album and winner of three 2009 Grammy Awards - Coldplay has earned the right to call the musical shots, says Anthony DeCurtis, author and longtime Rolling Stone contributor.

"There are only a handful of bands that can really command an audience, and they can and they sound ready to play," he says. He adds that he's puzzled by critics who downplay the band as U2-lite.

"I've never understood that sort of attack. Are they U2? No. But have they evolved their own style that's as recognisable as any of the biggest bands? Yes," DeCurtis says. "Few artists truly alter the course of music. Bands like Coldplay make music for fans. And they're nothing wrong with that."

Zane Lowe, DJ for Apple Music's Beats 1 radio, says Coldplay's new effort "hits you with wide eyes and open arms. It's the sound of a band that's happy to be alive."

For Lowe, Ghost Stories had the feel of a closed session dedicated to intimate ideas (which Martin at the time described as a journey toward unconditional love, and was recorded as he and Paltrow's eleven-year marriage was headed for a split). In contrast, "Dreams is them saying, 'We want to be around people again.'"

Coldplay didn't tour around Ghost Stories, but is indeed planning a global jaunt for Dreams. Guitarist Buckland can't wait.

"For us, being a band has never been easy, but I will say it's now more fun than it's ever been," he says as Martin nods while he sips on a water. "As we've gotten older, we've gotten nicer and more tolerant of each other. In your early twenties, you're quite abrasive, more egotistical. But we've gotten nicer, all of us."

The four do seem like old college friends, which they were in the Oasis-meets-rave-culture stew of mid-1990s London. Sometimes they finish one another's sentences, and other times they lapse into impromptu comedy.

When asked what they think of EDM, electronic dance music, Martin puts on a serious face and says: "Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.) is one of the great frontmen of all time... oh, wait."

Buckland laughs, then answers: "It's like any genre. There's good polka, and there's bad polka."

Martin: "I don't know much about polka. I just know you have to get five good cards, right?"

Buckland: "Be careful of online polka."

Martin, hanging his head: "I've lost so much money on online polka."

And so it goes, into the brisk L.A. night. One gets the feeling that this latest iteration of Coldplay could put on a concert and have a ball even if the hall was empty.

"It feels amazing right now," Martin says. "It's also humbling. We've learned that we wouldn't be anything without the others. So when you hear us, you're hearing four guys who are happy to be with each other, more than ever."