Coldplay are one of the more interesting commodities in contemporary pop music. After playing it relatively safe with X & Y, Chris Martin and co. have ostensibly done whatever it is that they pleased when it comes to their sound, their themes and their conceptual ideas over the course of their last three albums.
They’ve given us songs of war, revolution, divorce and death – not only that, but they’ve managed to turn them into hits. Essentially, Coldplay are perhaps the most artistically-liberal stadium act around today – even eclipsing U2, who returned to their comfort zone well over a decade ago.
A Head Full of Dreams marks the quickest-ever turnaround between Coldplay albums, arriving some 18 months from the predominantly gloomy, soul-searching Ghost Stories LP. It intends to let Coldplay emerge from the sepia and embrace the neon rainbow of 2011’s Mylo Xyloto.
It’s a clever – and, even, commendable – game plan in theory, but it’s when you work your way into the inner core of the album that one begins to suspect that strange things are afoot.
For the first time in a really long time, Coldplay do not sound entirely convincing. The blue-eyed funk of Adventure of a Lifetime feels like gangly, awkward karaoke; just as Hymn for the Weekend, despite boasting cameos from both Beyoncé and Avicii, feels flat and uninspired.
Regardless of what you’ve made of their material in the past, it’s been nigh-on impossible to deny the conviction with which the band delivers their songs. When Chris Martin was lamenting over being “millions of miles from home” and “wishing you were here beside me” on Ghost Stories, it felt like the closest we’ve come to raw-nerve honest from the frontman since the band’s early days.
To see such a seismic shift into “Life’s a drink/And love’s a drug” and the kind of “Woo-hoo”s that would make Damon Albarn cringe suggests more of an identity crisis than an immediate versatility.
While we’re on the subject of Queen B, the album’s guest stars are merely a flex of celebrity muscle as opposed to a genuine urge to collaborate. Sampling Barack Obama singing Amazing Grace feels just as pointless as the interludes (Kaleidoscope, Colour Spectrum) that the samples are featured on.
Elsewhere, Noel Gallagher turns up to play guitar on closer Up&Up, which – despite being one of the better tracks on offer – is completely unnecessary; least of all because the band already sports a more-than-capable lead guitarist in Jonny Buckland, here critically under-utilised.
Perhaps it arrived too soon. Maybe what Coldplay were going for was never going to work, regardless of when it came out. Any way you cut it, Coldplay are in limbo; and it’s difficult to ascertain whether that will be their downfall.
“I know when I’m lost,” Martin sing amid stabs of piercing synth and cluttered beats on X Marks the Spot, a hidden track within Army of One. That’s a level of irony that perhaps not even Alanis herself could comprehend.
‘A Head Full Of Dreams’ is out Friday December 4th, grab a pre-order here.