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Chicago Tribune DECEMBER 4, 2015 - by Greg Kot
COLDPLAY IS BIGGER, CATCHIER ON 'A HEAD FULL OF DREAMS'
Words don't matter, or do they? Coldplay's bubbly new album reviewed.
On its new album, Coldplay sounds like a band gearing up to play the Super Bowl - which it is. Everything sounds bigger, catchier, and the references to birds flying free, soaring eagles and faraway stars abound. Cue the confetti and fog machines, and pass the nacho dip.
Coming off the uncharacteristically somber Ghost Stories in 2014, Chris Martin, Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion and Phil Harvey fire up one relentless chorus after another on A Head Full Of Dreams (Parlophone/Atlantic), which sounds like it was designed at a pop-radio convention. Norway's Stargate production team, which has produced hits for Rihanna, Beyoncé and Katy Perry, among others, is on board, as is Swedish singer Tove Lo (featured on Fun) and Beyoncé herself, who provides the vocal hook on Hymn For The Weekend.
Coldplay has always aspired to write anthems, but its early albums were distinguished by a willingness to colour outside arena-rock margins. The band collaborated with maverick producer Brian Eno and seasoned its arrangements with exotic flavours - a pinch of Kraftwerk, a dash of progressive rock, a sprinkling of Middle Eastern texture. All of which gave Coldplay's wan, starry-eyed songs enough of a twist to make them at least moderately interesting, and sometimes undeniable. Along the way, this mild-mannered juggernaut has sold tens of millions of albums - one of the most consistently successful acts of the new century.
In recent years, Martin has broadened the band's reach by hanging out with pop artists and producers, usually a no-fly zone for even the biggest rock groups. He's worked with Jay Z and Kanye West, Rihanna joined for a duet on Coldplay's 2011 album, Mylo Xyloto, and EDM maestro Avicii gave Ghost Stories its most uptempo song.
A Head Full Of Dreams embraces that world more fervently than ever by buffing up Coldplay's penchant for wordless, sing-along vocals and chiming Edge-like guitars and pairing them with the dance beats of Adventure Of A Lifetime, the galloping title track (more cowbell!), the sultry R&B voicings of Army Of One, the bubbling bass line of Birds.
It's a party compared to Ghost Stories, which was released as Martin's marriage to actress Gwyneth Paltrow was ending. He tries to move on with the help of some poetry from a Persian mystic and reprises the sentiment of Coldplay show-closer Fix You in the closing, lighter-waving pep talk, Up&Up. Martin's sensitive-guy persona doesn't allow for bitterness or anger so much as a vague melancholy.
On most of the album, Coldplay's relatively buoyant music tries to submerge the band's most annoying trait. But sometimes Chris Martin, lyricist, just can't help himself.
Paltrow appears as a guest vocalist on one of the few ballads, Everglow, and the poetry flows. "Like a lion you ran, a goddess you rolled," Martin sings, "like an eagle you circled, in perfect purple." He also rhymes "special" with "celestial." No wonder Coldplay packed this album full of wordless vocal hooks.