INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The 405 NOVEMBER 30, 2015 - by William Tomer
COLDPLAY: A HEAD FULL OF DREAMS
So first things first: Coldplay are not as horrible as people make them out to be. Sure, Chris Martin's lyrics have a tendency to sound like they were written down in the very first diary owned by a twelve-year-old ("I'd rather be a comma than a full stop" makes me cringe every single time). Yet somehow, Martin and his motley crew - bassist Guy Berryman, drummer Will Champion and criminally underrated guitarist Jonny Buckland - have made some of the most memorable songs of the past fifteen years through some form of aural alchemy. But it is the sheer absence of this magic that makes A Head Full Of Dreams, their seventh LP, such a resounding disappointment.
Before diving into the new record, it never hurts to go through this contentious band's history to remember why they are so popular in the first place, as well as where they peaked.
2000's Parachutes spawned the massively popular Yellow and got the band nominated for the Mercury Prize. 2002's A Rush Of Blood To The Head propelled the group to superstardom on the back of singles like Clocks and The Scientist. 2005's X&Y was the year's best selling album worldwide, despite being their weakest critical effort to date. 2008 and 2011 brought Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends and Mylo Xyloto, respectively (more on these records in a moment). Then the group released their subdued, heartbreak-tinged Ghost Stories in the aftermath of Martin's divorce, which found a mixed response from fans and critics though it appears to have warmed with time.
Despite have received solid reviews and sales almost entirely across the board, Mylo Xyloto and Viva La Vida, in particular, are the proof that Coldplay are capable of much more than most give them credit for. Working together closely with Arcade Fire collaborator Markus Dravs and the otherworldly Brian Eno, these two records represent the highest points in Coldplay's discography.
While its overzealous attempt at being a concept record and occasional moments of overproduction could be a bit of a hiccup for some, Mylo Xyloto was an impressive attempt at creating arena rock with an electronic tinge. The hauntingly beautiful sped-up vocal intro of Charlie Brown; the Big Brother paranoia of Major Minus; the dreamy bombast of Paradise. The album was filled with winners, even if it had some flaws.
Viva La Vida, on the other hand, makes a case for the best mainstream rock album of the 2000s. As Martin decided to try his hand at broad thematic strokes - love and war, life and death - the band embarked on their most ambitious adventure. From the ascending beauty of hammered dulcimer-laden opener, Life In Technicolor, it becomes clear that this not your typical Coldplay record. The church organ bounce of Lost!; the tack piano glide of Lovers In Japan; the shoegaze of Chinese Sleep Chant; the anthemic peak of Viva La Vida; the jagged anti-war slant of Violet Hill; the swirling majesty of Strawberry Swing. The album's ten tracks are easily the most compelling Coldplay creations, with the revolutionary image pitched along with the music seeming to symbolise the band's bold attempt at overthrowing their own sound.
But how far we have come since then. It has been four years since Mylo Xyloto and seven since Viva La Vida. After the rather restrained nine-track outing on last year's Ghost Stories, it would make sense that the band would want to regain their creative edge with a colourful blare on A Head Full Of Dreams.
Lead single Adventure Of A Lifetime seemed to be an assurance than Coldplay was heading in the right direction. The twinkling riff by Buckland recalls the highs of Strawberry Swing while Martin's wordless coo is particularly reminiscent of the hypnotic intro to Charlie Brown. These two key elements swirl beautifully atop Berryman's funky bass line and Champion's driving drums. The best of Viva La Vida and Mylo Xyloto recast under a disco ball? Sign me up.
Alas, Adventure Of A Lifetime is but a flash in the pan. Like Ghost Stories before it, A Head Full Of Dreams is mostly comprised of forgettable songs that can play in the background no problem, but fail to standout or stand-up among more intense scrutiny. But unlike its predecessor, which had the ever-interesting element of heartbreak and pain buoying its soft melodies, the relentlessly life-affirming drivel that fills A Head Full Of Dreams is far from compelling.
The album does have a few high points. While Adventure Of A Lifetime takes the crown, the shimmer of Bird and the spoken word splendour of Kaleidoscope (better than it sounds, I promise) both leave their mark. The trouble is that those are just three tracks across the album's twelve and Kaleidoscope runs less than two minutes.
Instead, the majority of the track list is made up of songs that run far too long, have beyond cringe worthy concepts and lyrics (see: the attempt at love struck club banger, complete with Beyoncé, on Hymn For The Weekend) or simply sound too unoriginal to stand out from the others. Even the intro to Bird just sounds like a pepped-up rip-off of Mylo Xyloto's Us Against The World.
The initial promise of Adventure Of A Lifetime was based on the band's ability to press onward with a new sound, even if certain small elements seemed borrowed from their past. But just as Ghost Stories attempted to visit the ghosts of laid-back Coldplay past with middling results, A Head Full Of Dreams is unable to tread any exciting new ground beyond the lead single. The exciting and somewhat bold reinventions of Viva La Vida and Mylo Xyloto were a peak that appears to be unrepeatable with their current set of players.
While folks like Stargate and Rik Simpson produced this record, and individuals such as Avicii got involved with Ghost Stories, the absences of producers Markus Dravs and Brian Eno have become more pronounced.
The former has shaped some of the world's biggest groups into festival and arena-ready superstars with complementing music that is fit for both critical and commercial acclaim (i.e. Arcade Fire and Florence + The Machine). The latter simply remains one of the most influential musicians, composers and producers working in music today. Their combined touch was mighty on Coldplay's peak records and their absence is palpable on their disappointing follow-ups.
Coldplay records do have a tendency to grow on me, so perhaps I will revisit this one in a few months and find that I enjoy it more than I do at the moment. But for now, I cannot help but feel like Coldplay have exercised their entire book of tricks. Unless they can get Dravs and Eno back behind the boards to cast one last spell, it might be time to pack this one up for good.