Coldplay—the band you loved in the seventh grade and now want nothing to do with—released what is rumoured to be its final album this month. After 16 long years of experimenting with sounds, bouncing around on stage, and getting routinely torn apart by the international music community, the band’s latest album, A Head Full of Dreams, should place Coldplay exactly where it started: A decent band releasing a decent album. Only this time they've got history behind them.
Coldplay and its fans have journeyed through quite a few reiterations of the music scene. There were the "limestone-rock" days of old: Parachutes (2000) and A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002). Then there were commercial successes packed to the brim with neat, quotable lyrics, and hit songs ("Yellow," "The Scientist") that introduced many young listeners to a mature observation of heartbreak. This was the intellectual version of Linkin Park—the young, naive music snob's reference band.
X&Y (2005) bridged the gap between musical maturity and youthful relatability well, but Viva la Vida (2008) should have served as a subtle warning sign. Mylo Xyloto (2011) made Coldplay ‘experimental,’ showing the band opt for more synth, more colour, and, essentially, more pop. It was the ultimate betrayal: They had a song with Rihanna.
By this point, the anti-Coldplay sentiments that started simmering with Viva La Vida reached their boiling point. Devoted fans bailed, the band was dubbed as unoriginal and the bitter jokes about the group increased in intensity. Ghost Stories (2014), an album about Chris Martin’s breakup with Gwyneth Paltrow, was released without much fanfare, and quietly continued on into obscurity. But then, some silence and a Game of Thrones musical later, the group’s latest album was announced.
The long voyage of Coldplay is painfully apparent in this album. Every song twists through the band’s varied shades of polite Britpop—some instigating nostalgia, others assaulting your ears with colourful arpeggios. Sixteen years after its debut, Coldplay has released the ultimate Coldplay album, sweeping up everything they’ve done before in an impressive effort to move forward, broaden their horizons, and sound as little like Parachutes as possible.
The album takes off with a funky intro. “A Head Full of Dreams” asserts the momentum of the record as quickly as it can—this is Martin’s ‘over it’ album—but the bass line that starts the song speaks to another theme in the album: Coldplay is trying to do as much as it can with this one. This means, unfortunately, that the group’s forays will not be interesting and avant-garde, but instead tread the tried-and-true paths of its forebearers. “A Head Full of Dreams” sounds like a U2 song. “Adventure of a Lifetime” sounds like a mix of Tokyo Police Club and every EDM vocalist ever. “X Marks the Spot” is R&B pop in 2009. In Coldplay’s attempt to expand its sound, the band has lost the uniqueness that got it here.
That’s not to say the album doesn’t have traditionally Coldplay moments. “Everglow” will cure any fan’s need to hear the old sound, even though it is now more generic than ever before. “Birds” could have been from Mylo Xyloto, with its sonic colour and Martin’s up-tempo vocals. “Amazing Day” isn’t terrible, and “Hymn For The Weekend” is everything “Princess of China” should have been. But it’s been 16 years of big falsetto breaks, and much of the lyrical strength of Coldplay’s early days has faded away. “You give me this feeling, this everglow,” for example, just can’t compare to “You were an island and I passed you by.” ‘Coldplay Moments’ just won’t do it anymore.
There is finality in the sound of this album, even with its attempts to be more diverse and upbeat. Martin’s comments in an interview suggested that there was a completion with this record: it might not spell the end of Coldplay, but this is the ultimate design of their sound. It’s been a fun time; and though A Head Full of Dreams could have been far better, perhaps it’s perfect as it is: the closing chapter of a decent band’s saga.
“Can there be breaks in the chaos of time?”
Coldplay’s grand-ish finale
People love their artists to be artists — so long as they meet THEIR very own idea of what that should be, or in this case, what that should sound like.
Good for Coldplay that they put out whatever it is that they put out.
I’m still listening.