Chris Martin‘s divorce — er, “conscious uncoupling” — with Gwyneth Paltrow appears to have made Coldplay more productive. Ever since the band’s international stardom truly lifted off with 2002‘s A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay has been reliably consistent in delivering a new record precisely every three years along with an accompanying worldwide tour — X&Y arrived in 2005, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends followed in 2008, Mylo Xyloto appeared in 2011, and Ghost Stories materialized in 2014 mere weeks after Martin and Paltrow announced the split. This appeared to be Coldplay’s established modus operandi, which is why it was such a shocker to see an entire new album, 2015‘s A Head Full of Dreams, emerge from out of nowhere at the very end of the year just 18 months after its predecessor. Since when are aging musicians this productive?
As I expressed at the top, this could be a result of Martin’s newfound independence. Ghost Stories definitely came off as a record made during the throes of breakup — the only song that wasn’t moody was the self-consciously upbeat and EDM-influenced (and Avicii-co-produced) “A Sky Full of Stars,” which rang pretty false to me. (It was also a top ten hit around the world, so what do I know.) Right from the start, A Head Full of Dreams is more vibrant, colorful, and packed with energy and vitality. The title (and opening) track makes this clear, and as the album nimbly moves into “Birds,” it’s clear this record will have a tighter, more purposeful sense of rhythm than the largely atmospheric and spacious Ghost Songs. Track 3, “Hymn for the Weekend,” features Beyoncé on vocals and is less than the sum of its parts. (You may remember Beyoncé crashing Coldplay’s Super Bowl halftime show performance in early 2016 but might not remember what exactly she was doing there.)
Track 4, “Everglow,” is a pretty traditional, piano-driven effort from the band that also happens to feature Paltrow‘s vocal contributions. Track 5, “Adventure of a Lifetime,” is the lead single, and it’s a goodie. With a rainbow-colored guitar riff, it’s just a dazzling track. Track 6, “Fun,” is another sure-fire single destined to tear up the charts; it’s a bit less dance-oriented than “Adventure of a Lifetime,” but surely will find plenty of listeners on rock radio down the line. Track 7, “Kaleidoscope,” is an interlude that honestly doesn’t do a whole lot. Track 8, “Army of One,” is another buoyant anthem in the style of “Adventure of a Lifetime” and “Fun.” (It’s essentially two songs in one, and both are good.) Track 9, “Amazing Day,” is another piano-driven ballad that uses a swath of strings to provide a pleasant sense of sweep, although it’s overdone a little. Track 10, “Everglow,” is another interlude that this time serves more as a palate cleanser.
The final track, “Up&Up,” starts out as a lite “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (or maybe something off of Primal Scream‘s 1991 classic Screamadelica), but by the end turns into a pretty respectable song in its own right, especially once the guitars enter the mix. (Not coincidentally, Oasis‘ Noel Gallagher plays guitar on this track.) And that sums up the album, in a way: it’s solid, even if it may not seem like it at first. It’s even better than Ghost Stories, which in my review I called “more interesting than anything Coldplay has done since 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head.” And I still more or less agree with that sentiment now — I don’t find what is now mid-career Coldplay to be all that interesting or worth revisiting. (X&Y was a bit of a snoozer, and I never really listened to Viva la Vida or Mylo Xyloto very much.) What I enjoy most about Coldplay’s albums post-A Rush of Blood to the Head are the insanely high production values and the general palatability of the music. A Head Full of Dreams has plenty of each, as well as some really good songs, too.