Review Summary: When you paint with every colour, expect some clashes.
Coldplay's ability to bounce between unrelenting dreariness and saccharine sweet positivity may be a key factor in their overwhelming popularity, but for this reviewer, it's served only as a barrier, causing their albums to be overwhelmingly inconsistent. That being said, heading into this new (and possibly final, if some reports are to be believed) release, there appeared something of substance behind the lurid colours and overtly optimistic aesthetic.
There are well-realised expansions on the Mylo Xyloto
style ideas on this record, as evidenced on the T/T intro, lead single 'Adventure Of A Lifetime' and 'Birds', and there are the standard lighters-in-the-air festival pleasers in 'Fun' (which features a lovely vocal spot from Tove Lo), 'Amazing Day', and 'Everglow'. So far, so good, although possibly a little as if the band are discarding 2014's Ghost Stories
Where this album loses it's way, however, is that while Coldplay definitely have the chops to take on differing styles and sound convincing rather than just following trends, the peaks and troughs are too haphazardly spread across the length of the record. 'Army Of One/X Marks The Spot' are both interesting takes on synth-pop, showing restraint and moody instrumentation, but there is no reason to hold them together as one track. They are similar in tempo and aesthetic, sure, but putting them right next to each other suggests that they were two half-ideas that the band didn't have enough faith in to stand on their own.
Further to this, the two interludes are, at best, OK, with 'Kaleidoscope' being the better of the two, but when your album is only 45 minutes long and slaloms through genres as carelessly as A Head Full Of Dreams
does, it only jars the experience further, and the many satisfying moments on offer here become muddied. Jackson Pollock on an off day, perhaps.
Chris Martin, unfortunately, remains a fairly unconvincing pop vocalist - the common 'oh-oh' and 'woo' refrains sound a little forced and disingenuous from someone with Martin's range and previous material. The higher pitches of 'Everglow' and 'Amazing Day' put him under a little too much strain, and while fragility has been one of the stronger facet of his voice, here it just sounds uncomfortable, and (dare I say it) a bit off-key. However, not wanting to exaggerate the effect this has on the record as a whole, it is worthwhile mentioning that the high points are capable of inducing a genuine euphoria. The closing bars on the Beyonce-feature 'Hymn For The Weekend' boast swagger and triumphance, and the closer 'Up + Up' is everything from the 'happy Coldplay' blueprint realised excellently - Jonny Buckland's guitars glide effortlessly through a synth-laden explosion of joy, that channels Primal Scream's Screamadelica
at points. Glastonbury 2016, mark my words...
Bizarrely, despite not being completely impressed by this album, one gets the impression it would be a lot better if it was longer - giving the individual components time to shine and taking the listener on a journey, rather than appealing to the short attention span of the singles market. This record had a potential to roll on like a neon steam train, taking everyone in with it, but in refusing to pace itself and throwing ideas at the wall so brazenly and recklessly, it's turned itself into an undoubtedly enjoyable but ultimately frustrating listen.