People love to hate Coldplay. Maybe it’s lead singer Chris Martin’s inimitable voice, which does in fact sound like he has a head cold. Or maybe it’s the profuse radio time the band’s (debatably) worst songs are allotted — you couldn’t go anywhere in 2008 without hearing Martin weep “I used to rule the world” in the smash “Viva La Vida.” The same goes for those beat-your-head-against-a-wall piano riffs from 2002’s “Clocks.” It’s not Coldplay’s best work, and it leaves us all wondering: Does Britain really have talent?
Those that love to hate Coldplay, though, should be encouraged to delve further into the band’s discography. The quartet only started to get “dodgy” when 2011’s Mylo Xyloto rolled around — prior albums (i.e. their debut, Parachutes) supply truly emotional and experimental tunes. Songs like “Yellow” and “Trouble” and “Shiver” took the ballad archetype and spun it around on its head, changing the shape of what a new-millennial slow jam could sound like for good. So whether or not you think Coldplay is abysmally vanilla, it can’t be denied that the band’s history is solid.
On their latest release, A Head Full of Dreams, the Brits are reaching with every last limb to pull themselves out of history and into the now. They strive for color, and they aim for flavor, funkiness and relevancy. Sometimes they get there; sometimes they don’t. Regardless, A Head Full of Dreams is a complete thought — capped off with a certain energetic charm that shows itself marvelously on some ditties, though, lamentably, not on all.
The titular track, “A Head Full of Dreams,” opens the quasi-psychedelic album with tropical drumbeats and jungle synths. It’s like U2 took a trip to Jamaica — the isolated guitars sound like classic Edge, but the intrinsic bumping rhythm of the song tells its listeners to move their British booties. “Adventure of a Lifetime” rivals “A Head Full of Dreams” on the funkiness scale, but isn’t nearly as sleek. A snicker escaped me as “Adventure” commenced: “Turn your magic on!” Okay, Coldplay. I’m on it.
Because the band isn’t groovy by nature, too often the exploratory tunes of the album fall into milquetoast MGMT territory — not a sexy place to be. “Kaleidoscope” is like an actual kaleidoscope in that it’s a mess, an incoherent conglomeration of spoken word lyrics and banal melodic lines wrapped up in a package of “pretty” colors (aka, fancy production). “Fun” with Tove Lo is not fun at all, and Martin overpowers her on the harmonies to the point where Lo is stripped of the smoky vocal zest that makes her, her — it could be anyone singing back-up with the human head cold, Martin, on this one.
Beyoncé sashays into the mix on “Hymn For the Weekend” and emits her undeniable grace — she improves every tune, even this one. It, once again, is sealed with flawless production value and turns out to be really catchy. Though Beyoncé’s super-powers are substantially underutilized (she hums a lot), “Hymn” has the potential to be another radio hit for the band. Equally carefree is “Birds,” which sounds eerily similar to The Cure’s 1985 hit “Close to Me.” But “Birds” is chipper, earthy with an apt amount of restrained psychedelia. Vanilla, in this case, is good.
When all is said and done, we get back to the ballads — the songs that made Coldplay what it is. “Everglow” has been the most aggressively promoted of them all, with its nursery-rhyme simplicity and peaceful resolutions. It’s more pleasant on the ears than, say, “Army of One,” which resurrects the ne’er-missed spirit of Mike Posner. (No pseudo-hip hop, please.) “Amazing Day” is a cool waltz that builds on symphonic energy, strings and all. At first listen, it could almost be mistaken for Parachutes-era Martin and the gang.
“Up&Up” pulls us out of the Amazonian abyss and into the stadium: a culmination of the album’s consistently inspiring tone, “Up&Up” works. This one’s a wave-your-lighter and kiss-your-lover type of song, the one that plays at the end of the sweaty London concert and hits all the right notes with the audience. If only all of the songs on A Head Full of Dreams emanated these vibes, these calm, imaginative and characteristic waves of sonic fuel. The song’s chorus rings: “I know we’re gonna get it together somehow.”
Well, Coldplay, at least you’re hopeful.