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Is Coldplay's Possible Swan Song A Soaring Success Or Total Bellyflop?

By Chicagoist_Guest in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 4, 2015 3:11PM

Photo Credit: Julia Kennedy

By Andy Derer

Chris Martin and his band of brothers in Coldplay have been the Brit-rock band your mother loves for the past 15 years. Never too interested in pushing the sonic envelope like Radiohead, or creating tabloid controversy like Oasis, Coldplay has always played the game as a sort of ego-less version of U2.

Sincerity, romance and doe-eyed politics have shaped the band into a global force, connecting with a generation, while never quite blowing away the critics.

2015_12_coldplay_02.jpg A Head Full Of Dreams, threatened by Chris Martin as "being the end of something," explodes with a day-glo manic energy. Where last year's Ghost Stories had the distinct feel of Martin's "break up" album after his split with Gwyneth Paltrow, this one has all the chaotic vibe of new love. The Radiohead-lite sound of early albums like 2000's Parachutes and 2002's blockbuster cross-over A Rush Of Blood To The Head has completely given way to a hodgepodge of sounds and flavors. Sure, it isn't quite rock and roll, but that has never truly been Coldplay's modus operandi.

The opening title track falls into their old weakness, a U2-style gang chorus, with chimey guitars and gooey positivity. But from there on, Coldplay loosens up to give us their most varied set of their career. "Birds" is based on an up-tempo motorik beat and a Johnny Marr-esgue guitar figure. "Fun," with a sultry vocal spot from Tove Lo, is a catchy look at post-break-up optimism. "Didn't we have fun? Maybe we could again," Martin pleads in his very Catholic, well mannered delivery. "Everglow" skips along on a piano figure straight out of the Bruce Hornsby songbook, but the riff and song in general is so catchy, it is hard not to like.

Maybe the oddest thing about A Head Full Of Dreams is it's flirtation with hip-hop and urban R&B sounds. In 2000 Coldplay was probably the least likely to eventually feature collaborations with a member of Destiny's Child. But 15 years later, having Beyonce adding vocals sounds neither forced nor does it kill any momentum on the album. "Hymn For The Weekend" sounds like a hit and could possibly cross-over to urban pop radio. "X Marks The Spot," a mid-album hidden track bookended onto the end of the more straight up anthem "Army Of One," finds Martin riding a hip-hop beat not unlike something off a Drake or Future album. And the first single "Adventure Of A Lifetime" captures the dance-pop 2015 zeitgeist with ease. The song works for Coldplay, but it could have worked just as well for Rihanna, Justin Bieber or Katy Perry. A far cry from the band's pleasant Britpop of yesteryear.

So while Coldplay no longer sounds anything like an organic band, per se, A Head Full Of Stars does feature their best set of songwriting in years, and production values that they have never tapped into before. When Noel Gallagher shows up on the album closer "Up & Up" for a guitar line resembling his 1996 classic "Champagne Supernova" it seems superfluous, but certainly not unwanted. Chris Martin and company shows a willingness to experiment that Gallagher was never interested in. Maybe that's another reason why Gallagher has has a more difficult past 15 years than Coldplay.

While the band still has that annoying lovable, over-achieving, class president vibe—the sample of President Barack Obama reciting "Amazing Grace" at one point seems a bit of overly earnest overkill—the music presents itself in a bright, imaginative light that most bands never attempt. If this is the end of something, as Martin keeps saying, than they have ended on a high note.

Andy Derer is host of The Andy Derer Show, one of Chicago's longest running music interview podcasts. He is also a writer, musician and restaurateur from the western suburb of Westmont. The man is also an outspoken proponent of the compact disc and owns over 4,000 of them.