Published Dec 03, 2015If you subscribe to the idea that Coldplay are heirs to U2's throne, then A Head Full of Dreams is their Pop. On that record, Bono and company hooked up with Howie B, immersed themselves in club culture and produced their most dance floor-friendly record at a time when the music industry was trying to sell dance music to America under the guise of "electronica." Efforts on both fronts were a bit of a washout.
Eighteen years later, Coldplay are trying to walk a similar line, merging their stadium-sized soft rock with the EDM (the industry's most recent and far more successful dance music pitch) zeitgeist. It also marks a return to the pop maximalism of Mylo Xyloto, following last year's muted Ghost Stories, aided and abetted by Norwegian songwriting duo Stargate, best known for penning dance-infused R&B hits for Rihanna.
On paper, this sounds like an intriguing combination. But, as with their work with Brian Eno, Coldplay are reluctant to let their collaborators voices overshadow their own. The record's best tracks, "Adventure of a Lifetime" and the swinging "Hymn for the Weekend," featuring vocals from Beyoncé and programming from Avicii, provide a clue as to what might have been. But they seem more interested in borrowing EDM's aesthetic of oversized uplift than crafting memorable grooves. Coldplay-isms — Chris Martin's piano ballads, Jonny Buckland's bland single-note guitar riffs — continue to abound, and any substantive contributions co-producers Stargate or guests like Noel Gallagher make are relegated to the background.
Coldplay have the distinction of being music's safest band, but that wasn't always the case. Although they always rocked listeners gently, there was a distinct sense of yearning and tension at play on debut Parachutes and its blockbuster follow-up, A Rush of Blood to the Head. Over the years, the band descended into a complacency they've tried to mask with experimentation. Despite a rolodex of A-list producers and guests, they've never embraced the role of sonic innovators the way U2 did. Pop was a failure in the eyes of many, but no one could accuse the group of half measures.
Despite pretensions both arty (Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends) and populist (this record), Coldplay remain steadfast in their unwillingness to mess with their (very successful) formula. A Head Full of Dreams might have been a poptimist masterpiece. Instead, it's just another Coldplay album, with all the baggage — both positive and negative — that entails. (Parlophone)