Q JANUARY 2016 - by Dorian Lynskey


SEVENTH HEAVEN: Gwyneth, Beyoncé, Noel and the US President chip in on joyous return.

If we learned anything from Coldplay's vexing 2014 offering Ghost Stories, it's that they don't scale down well. Low-key without being intimate, it mithered along in a doleful fog, practically apologising for bothering you. Only now does it make sense as a post-divorce throat-clearing before the giant back-to-life shout of seventh album A Head Full Of Dreams.

Chris Martin may struggle to express real heartbreak but boy, can he nail bruised optimism. With his lyrical palette of stars, sky and sea, he's the master of the broad brushstroke, while his bandmates craft a luminous, frictionless sound that's more air than earth: is there a lead guitarist less egotistical than Jonny Buckland, with his subtle peals and trills? Coldplay strive more blatantly than anyone for universality and in that respect this is their most Coldplay-ish album yet.

That's no mean feat, given how many other people are involved. The album was written and produced with Norwegian hitmakers Stargate, who combine the clean impact of a Rihanna record with echoes of '80s Springsteen. Apart from the not-secret-enough track X Marks The Spot, an ill-fitting R&B jam that makes Martin sound phony and anonymous, it works. Guest vocalists include Beyoncé, Tove Lo, all the band's children, Martin's current girlfriend and his ex-wife: Gwyneth Paltrow sings backing vocals on the philosophical break-up song Everglow. Kaleidoscope features Barack Obama singing Amazing Grace, gently notifying listeners that Coldplay can get sample clearance from the White House.

The range of voices reflects Coldplay's emphasis on community and communication. More so than Mylo Xyloto, this warm and busy album pursues pop as a democratic ideal. The uplift isn't subtle - the track-listing looks like something you'd come up with after a wrap of MDMA - but it's infectious. Disco-house sparkler Adventure Of A Lifetime is more joyous than their grim Avicii collaboration A Sky Full Of Stars. Hymn For The Weekend, on which Martin and Beyoncé meet over a piano line reminiscent of Blur's Sing, is a more convincing R&B song than Mylo Xyloto's Princess Of China. Fun, featuring Tove Lo, is more moving than anything on Ghost Stories. The LP is concluded by Up & Up, a campfire singalong expanded to Pyramid Stage proportions. Beyoncé, Brian Eno and Merry Clayton sing back-up, while Noel Gallagher plays the guitar solo. It's that kind of record.

It's a pity that the words didn't receive as much loving care as the sound. Martin's a smart, witty thirty-eight-year-old who once wrote a massive hit single from the perspective of a deposed tyrant. Surely he can do better than, say, "How can people suffer? How can people part? How can people struggle? How can people break your heart?"

Still, such obviousness has always been the price Coldplay pay for emotional directness. They know what they are (melodic, generous, guileless) and what they are not (heavy, gritty, profound), and they are throwing their arms wider than ever, as if to embrace the whole world. John Newton, the eighteenth-century preacher who wrote Amazing Grace, said his mission was to "break a hard heart and to heal a broken heart". Chris Martin, pop's leading writer of secular hymns, would surely agree.