A Head Full of Dreams is far from a disappointment, even if it isn’t a magnificent triumph. Coldplay seem to be reborn with this album, that rejoices in the sheer pleasure of being alive. Like its heady artwork, the album is psychedelic and rousing. The title track, which is also the name of the album’s title, sets a precedent for what is to come – a dancing, bouncing, and at times emotional journey through the Coldplay wonderland. Imagination is key to the sound that occupies the track, because the band themselves seem to be exploring and redefining their limits. Sounds of nature, speech, songs without lyrics all have a place in this musical world.
Unfortunately the first track’s eponymous title, which mirrors and sets itself up for comparison with last year’s ‘A Sky Full of Stars’, falls far short of the latter. It is unmistakably Coldplay – shiny, sophisticated, and colourful – but it doesn’t seem very new. I felt let down by the familiarity of what I was listening to, although the energy of the song was refreshing compared to the heavy ‘Always in My Head’ that opens the band’s previous album Ghost Stories.
This upbeat hyperactivity continues until track four, ‘Everglow’, which is one of the most disappointing tracks on the album. Unlike the band’s past ballads, it lacks tenderness and had little effect on me, and seemed to go on for rather longer than necessary. ‘Fun’, on the other hand, is a beautiful and touching love song, in which a female accompaniment works wonderfully and the fantastic resounding lyric “but didn’t we have fun” has the potential to become a classic Coldplay line. Similarly great songs are ‘Birds’, ‘Army of One’ and the already released ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’, which offers a pretty accurate taste of the record’s overall feel.
“‘Everglow’ lacks tenderness and had little effect on me”
Two of the album’s tracks are experimental, one of which is situated around half way through the record and the other being the penultimate song. The first, which is titled ‘Kaleidoscope’, is a vintage piano-led piece which contains speech. Until knowing the words this interlude is somewhat unnerving, and its purpose in the album difficult to identify. Knowing the words, however, makes this short poetic track far more powerful. Amassing only 8 lines, the romantic, haunting ‘This being human is a guest house… Be grateful for whoever comes/ Because each has been sent as a guide’ gives the album a different depth amidst the loud and colourful other songs. The second wordless piece, which is nameless, is far less mystifying, and feels rather unexcitingly like a Coldplay song that simply has no lyrics. It is a nice piece of music – slightly jarring, somewhat otherworldly – but it isn’t a standout feature of the album.
‘Army of One’, which comes fairly late in the album, may be considered as one of the LP’s most significant songs, having a playing time of 6 minutes. The long, shouting vocals from Chris Martin do give the song a certain amount of gravity, and the line ‘”amy of one” does leave echoes, but the track is certainly not the standout song of A Head Full of Dreams. ‘Hymn for the Weekend’, featuring Beyoncé, is up there – and opens sounding uncannily like a Destiny’s Child track, with Bey’s vocals steadily loudening before a typically Coldplay piano kicks in. The song is the perfect marriage of brass, beat and harmony, with the arguable Queen of pop introducing a feisty, hip-pop edge to Coldplay’s sound, much like Rihanna did in ‘Princess of China’. The result is a fun and memorable song that could easily become a pop smash.
‘Amazing Day’, the other best song, is undoubtedly the star of the album. It’s a waltz-worthy delight; pretty, sweeping and momentous. It has a distinctly retro feel, which Chris Martin’s voice is perfectly suited to, and is simply a grand piece of music that would possibly belong better in a ballroom; it more than happily fits in A Head Full of Dreams, though. Finally, it is fitting to mention the album’s closing song, ‘Up and Up’, last. It’s final message is that things can only get better. It is not an amazing song, but it does have charm and ends the album on a cheery and hopeful note.
Overall, the outlook for this album is positive. It is an enjoyable listen that doesn’t feel long or tedious, and contains a few songs that are fantastic. For the most part, however, it doesn’t feel – despite its obvious efforts – particularly new, and its attempts at being innovative are not fully realised. It is an imaginative, colourful album, definitely worth a listen, but it is not a game changer.