As if you didn’t know already – Coldplay are a world famous band. The band consists of lead vocalist Chris Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion. They started out as an alternative rock band but over the years have drifted closer and closer into the mainstream. It will be interesting to see if their latest album A Head Full Of Dreams can indicate what kind of band we can define them as in the present, especially given Martin’s recent claim that “rock music has been done“.
A Head Full Of Deams is Coldplay’s seventh studio album and was released through Parlophone and Atlantic Records on December 4. The production of the album was a joint effort between Rik Simpson and Stargate. Stargate are a Norwegian duo consisting of Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, while Simpson has been a longterm collaborator with the band. Other noted collaborators on this album are Beyoncé, Tove Lo, Noel Gallagher, Khatia Buniatishvili and Merry Clayton, as well as Chris Martin’s ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow.
The first track on A Head Full Of Dreams is a song that shares the same name – “A Head Full Of Dreams“. It begins with a repeated phrase which appears to replicate bell tolls, a phrase that you would associate with marriage and happiness. These synth tolls are surrounded by ambience as the track slowly builds. The drums then enter gradually, with layers of percussion added after every loop. The rhythm builds, and a guitar slide leads us into a short riff before we find the verse.
The track is very dance orientated. It’s almost impossible to stay still due to the various grooves and rhythms layered on top of each other, topped off by Chris Martin’s vocal melody. The continuous beat pauses after the chorus and we find a short interlude as the track opens up and the texture thins. We’re met by a customary Coldplay ‘ooh’ section, which builds into a big finale when the percussion returns. As layers retreat, a piano brings the song to a gentle close. A good start to the album I think.
Track two is entitled “Bird“. An electronic back beat is played throughout, a common feature of dance music, and the texture is a lot thinner to that of the opener. This means there’s a lot more space as more reverb and delay are used to gain a wider stereo field. As the next track, “Hymn For The Weekend“, begins, we find a very familiar voice – Beyoncé. Her vocals are layered on top of each other, accompanied only by the sounds of wildlife in the distance. The harmonies are very reminiscent of Destiny’s Child but, in this instance, Beyoncé ‘can handle this’ alone (listen to “Bootylicious” if you didn’t get that reference).
Percussion and piano enter to bring us out of the wilderness and back indoors. My immediate reaction was that the chord progressions are similar to one of Coldplay’s previous hits, “Paradise”, but the rhythmic feel is very different. Beyoncé and Martin’s vocals occasionally harmonise and occasionally meet in unison, and seem to compliment each other very well. The song is built around an extensive use of percussion, with some interesting instrumentation; for example at one point, it almost sounds as if someone is hitting a spoon around the inside of a jam jar! It would have been nice to have a change of key or modulation of some kind. No drastic changes in chord progression are made. Variation can be found in the rhythm rather than the harmony.
“Everglow” is a very soft, gentle song mainly focused around piano and voice, contrasting to the previous upbeat track. The song features vocals from Martin’s ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, the pair evidently still close after their divorce. “Adventures of A Lifetime” is track five on A Head Full Of Dreams, and the only one to have been released as single and video prior to the album coming out. It begins with a guitar riff which repeats again after other instruments enter. A lot of percussion is used once more to keep you dancing, with the focus very much on rhythm.
The verse is very bright and happy. This is momentarily cut short by a low pass filter pre-chorus to add suspense, with Coldplay again using other means to add variation to an unchanging chord progression. The chorus is not a sing-along one that we’re used to, but more focused around the opening guitar riff. This is perhaps influenced by modern EDM and dance music tracks that have been dominating the charts recently, simulating their version of a ‘drop’.
A middle 8 reveals strange backing vocals which can be heard elsewhere in the background throughout. They turn out to just be noises as opposed to words that you can make out (another EDM attribute?). In a recent interview Chris Martin stated, “the future of music is in new sounds and new ways of treating vocals. We wanted to add those colours to our palette“. We then reach a big finale with ‘woohoos’ aplenty – where would we be without some ‘oohs’/’yeahs’/’woohoos’ in Coldplay track?
The next track on the album is oddly sombre for a track that’s called “Fun“, but perhaps this is meant to be in irony. It features vocals from Tove Lo, a Swedish Grammy nominated singer-songwriter. The electronic drums heard throughout are similar to a heart beat, alluding to the personal lyrics of love. “Kaleidoscope” follows and is more of a musical interlude than a fully-fledged track. It features a sample of US President Barack Obama singing “Amazing Grace” at Clementa C. Pinckney’s funeral.
Pitched shifted and cut up vocals, more readily associated with Skrillex than Coldplay, begin the next track “Army Of One” – these again relate to Martin’s notion of modern music and playing around with sounds. There is also a ‘hidden track’ called “X Marks The Spot” found within, which brings with it a hip-hop-esque feel and back beat – maybe that’s just me, but with Chris Martin’s vocals over the top, it’s a strange experience! Track 9 “Amazing Day” is a slow ballad, followed by another musical interlude in “Colour Spectrum” which combines ideas and motifs heard in all the songs previous.
The penultimate track is “Up&Up” and is the longest track on the album. It has soft sections, heavy sections, ‘oohs’, an electronic kit, a big snare and some violins – a classic Coldplay song! Noel Gallagher features on guitar. “Miracles” follows as the final song on the album, and a bonus one at that. This closing track gradually builds up to a climax of ‘oohs’ and ‘yeahs’ to end on a high that will keep you singing along and craving more.
I quite enjoyed A Head Full Of Dreams, it’s very much what you would expect from a modern Coldplay record. Although a little unadventurous harmonically, the tracks are packed full of rhythm and will have you up and dancing. One thing is for sure though, we should stop referring to the bands past and judge them for what they are now – a pop band – and as far as pop music goes, this is definitely better than most.
I don’t, however, agree with Coldplay’s justification of leaving their rock routes behind. To believe that “rock music has been done” is foolish when you enter such a diluted genre as pop to replace it. This is a whole new argument for another day though, for now just enjoy the new tunes! Coldplay’s A Head Full Of Dreams is out now via Parlophone Records, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by William Kitchener