After their last offering, Ghost Stories, proved to be a rather sombre affair, A Head Full Of Stars was promised to be a return to the energetic pop days of Mylo Xyloto. And deliver on its promise it does. This is a record full of bouncing beats, easy-going lyrics, and simple, memorable tunes. However, this doth not a good album make.
I have to admit that as a Coldplay fan I was a little underwhelmed on my first listen. The album as a whole seemed to lack substance. There didn’t seem to be many memorable aspects to it – nothing that blew me away. The single Adventure Of A Lifetime, released before the album, built my hopes up. I like this track. It has a tinge of funk, a huge positive energy running through it, and to me is the epitome of recent Coldplay; pop, but with the added musical genius of Exeter City fan and local boy Chris Martin. But much of the rest of the album seems to fade towards a bland sort of beige. Perhaps there was such an emphasis on creating an easy-going, cheerful album that some of the songs took to the background. They are not bad songs by any shot. They just seem to lack that originality that has always marked out Coldplay as different from the ever increasing number of solo pop artists in the charts.
The fact that this is not a follow up to the days of Yellow and Green Eyes is evident right from the very first track, A Head Full Of Dreams. A slow, shimmery fade in greets a funky bass and drums before Martin enters with a familiar “oooh”. As much as the song is bouncy and easy to tap your foot along to, it doesn’t really do anything special. It is a solid start. Nothing more. Birds follows, again starting with an upbeat bass line and shimmery sounds. Once more the chorus is full of long notes from Martin, and it doesn’t really increase much in intensity. The song does build towards the end with an introduction of strings before suddenly cutting as the track ends. Tweeting birds lead into the Beyoncé inspired hook for Hymn For The Weekend. Similarly an upbeat drumbeat starts the song, accompanied by piano. The verse is more what I expected, before leading into a pop-y chorus again with a dominating drumbeat.
Everglow provides a respite from the overflowing euphoria that the first three songs seem driven to bring across. Piano and drums start, but the tempo is slower, the mood is more thoughtful. “Oh they say people come, say people glow / This diamond was extra special” Martin croons, in what seems to be a look back at his relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow. The lyrics are thought provoking, and the song works well to contrast to the joyful opening songs. Personal favourite Adventure Of Lifetime follows, building the tempo back up. We see the appearance of a typically bouncy Coldplay riff from guitarist Jonny Buckland, and a funky bass riff I can’t get enough of. I thought this might provide a base for a really strong second half but alas it was not to be.
Fun, written with Swedish vocalist Tove Lo, doesn’t really offer much apart from more pop, before Kaleidoscope, a strange two minutes that play a sample from a Barack Obama speech over gentle piano. Army Of One follows, opening with synths, drums and Martin’s voice. The chorus is catchy, and the ringing church bells are different. It is not as outrageously happy as the earlier songs, which I enjoy. However, it changes halfway through to an almost R&B style song, which is interesting, but not really to my taste. Amazing Day opens slowly – the sort of song a crowd could certainly sway along to. It is a nice song – fairly relaxing and peaceful – but it does not grab me. It feels like the kind of track that would work well on a stage as it theatrically builds towards the end, before slowing back down. The same could be said for final song, Up&Up, which comes after minute-long interlude Colour Spectrum which shimmers and doesn’t do much else. It starts off slowly, almost unsure of which direction it is going to go in. But as it continues it grows, it seems Buckland has finally been given some freedom on the guitar, as he provides some nice riffs towards the end. The chorus-style voices again add a theatrical edge, and it is a decent way to finish the album.
This album will provoke many different views. Some parts are quite out there, there is a lot of cheery pop influence, and I have to admit that one or two times I thought Martin’s voice seemed to be lacking in power. However, there are one or two decent songs. I agree that bands have to evolve – I wouldn’t expect something along the lines of Parachutes or X&Y, but at times this album seems to lack the craftsmanship and musical intelligence that I would expect from a band such as Coldplay.