There’s absolutely no need for it to be this way. Coldplay were never exactly critical darlings, but equally the group weren’t hated – at least, not initially. Go back and check those Metacritic scores for ‘Parachutes’ or even ‘X&Y’, and you’ll find no small degree of warmth, respect… love, even.
‘A Head Full Of Dreams’ seems to arrive with a readymade backlash. Peering beyond critical bigotry, though, it’s clear that the group are in a kind of creative stasis, eager to attempt new ideas but afraid to ultimately break with the past.
It’s there in the track titles. From ‘Hymn For The Weekend’ to ‘Amazing Day’ or ‘Adventure Of A Lifetime’ it seems that Coldplay want to prompt something uplifting but not truly euphoric, something generally diverting but never ultimately engrossing.
The title track opens the album, and it’s a suitable conditioner for what follows – the guitar riff could come from The Edge, while the subtleties in the production recall Brian Eno’s work. Much like U2’s work of late, however, ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’ chooses to map out territory previously unexplored, rather than race headlong into uncharted regions.
‘Birds’ makes intriguing use of electronics, while ‘Hymn For The Weekend’ nods towards a gospel influence. Yet there isn’t really any impact, any punch to the creativity, with Chris Martin turning in some of his weaker lyrical performances. ‘Army Of One’ is one of the album’s musically thrilling moments, with Coldplay swapping crisp arena guitar lines for an arrangement almost entirely daubed in electronics.
Sadly, though, this is one of the riskier passages on an album that seems resolute in its commitment to familiar tropes. ‘Amazing Day’ is a hazy blend of reverb-soaked guitar and synthetic strings, while ‘Fun’ makes cruel mis-use of Tove Lo’s undoubted pop talents.
‘Up & Up’ closes the record, with its chirpy call of “we’re gonna get it, get it together”, but in lingering on promise rather than delivery Coldplay seem to underline their own sense of stasis. It would be unfair to label ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’ a complete mis-fire, but the record’s successes simply serve to underline the lack of emotional bite within the material.
Somewhat strangely, the album’s two modest vignettes – ‘Colour Spectrum’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ – seem to contain more daring, more wonder, in their minute-long spans than the bulk of the rest of the material. It’s clear that Coldplay retain their thirst, their passion for making music - it’s merely a shame that it results in such polite noises.
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