Monday, November 30, 2015

A Head Full of Dreams | Coldplay



Chris Martin's storm has ended in a magnificent rainbow.

Last year's Ghost Stories was Coldplay's proclamation of emotions in the aftermath of Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow's infamous conscious uncoupling, which, we have learned, means that they're technically divorced but still spend a fair amount of time together for the sake of their two children. The nine-track set was stained with sorrow yet was sprinkled with the hope of better days to come, paving the way for the band's seventh (and possibly final) release, A Head Full of Dreams.

Within the past few album cycles, Coldplay has become a band that refuses to fit perfectly in its listener-assigned alternative rock mold, making that fact most obvious when the quartet's fifth album, Mylo Xyloto, took the form of a gritty, electroindustrial concept album. Martin's voice remains the band's only constant factor; everything else works around him. This new record, just like the last few, further explores just how far a catch-all genre like alternative rock can be bent before it breaks. Just how far, you ask? Judging by the scene set by the opening title track, which displays an alt-rock core adorned with technicolor pop sensibility, pretty damn far.

This record most closely parallels the band's fifth release in the sense that it places the most emphasis on electronic-assisted production -- the one form of Coldplay that divides fans and critics alike. "X Marks the Spot," an unlisted track that is tacked onto the playtime of "Army of One," is Coldplay's best attempt at the spacey synthpop that the kids (Troye Sivan, Halsey) are making nowadays -- of course, with solid results. "Birds" (not to be confused with "Up with the Birds") charges along with a double-time beat that doesn't rest until the song awkwardly cuts off with Martin's muted mutter of "cool." Even lead single "Adventure of a Lifetime" is an energetic little number led by a reverberated guitar riff, vocal samples, and retro disco vibes; it may just be Coldplay at its most carefree moment.

Although only one artist, Swedish pop newcomer Tove Lo, is credited for her feature on the album, this album is the band's most collaborative effort, with unaccredited vocals coming from Paltrow (again, that conscious uncoupling thing is really lax), Beyoncé (!!!), and President Barack Obama (pulling out all of the stops here, folks). The other voices on the album take the backseat (even the POTUS, whose rendition of "Amazing Grace" is clipped to a fuzzy, nearly unrecognizable snippet at the end of the "Kaleidoscope" interlude) so Martin can continue basking in the spotlight, but they each serve a pivotal purpose in adding flairs to this album that gives it the advantage of unexpected variety over the band's others.

Surprisingly, Lo's voice, thrown into its light upper register and somewhat unrecognizable from its state on her own Queen of the Clouds, plays back-up on the nostalgia-soaked "Fun." Arguably, Yoncé's feature on "Hymn for the Weekend" is more commanding -- and her feature isn't the only thing that makes it the strongest track on the album. The anthem's title is fitting, given that the duo sings, "I'm feeling drunk and high / So high, so high / Then we shoot across the sky," over the beat-laden, horn-accented track. And as for Paltrow, her vocals barely emerge to audible levels behind her ex-husband's "Everglow," a bittersweet wave goodbye to their relationship that acknowledges a lasting impression that each had on the other.

If this album is, in fact, Coldplay's final sendoff, the band's story concludes with a "happily ever after" and a promise that everything is going to be okay, even if things are weird right now and you're singing songs about your ex-wife... with your ex-wife. It infuses a certain level of bliss but doesn't lose the personal touch of its creators, even with the slew of extra voices that wiggle their ways onto tracks and the production responsibilities that are credited to unlikely candidates: Norwegian duo Stargate (the production duo's name is attached to Ne-Yo, Selena Gomez, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Jennifer Lopez). The record doesn't contain anything mind-blowing, but that wasn't necessarily a requirement to begin with; it needed to prove that Coldplay is still a chameleonic little band that is alive and kicking nearly 20 years after its formation -- and it fulfilled its purpose with ease.

A Head Full of Dreams will be available on December 4, 2015 under Parlophone Records.

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Maira Gall