If smiley faces weren’t already taken as a signifier in pop, this album would be plastered in them.
Coldplay’s last album, Ghost Stories (2014), was a sombre affair dealing with the fallout from Chris Martin’s conscious uncoupling. A Head Full of Dreams, by contrast, splats the band in primary hues, accentuating the positive with dance moves, ape costumes, high-profile guest spots – Beyoncé, Noel Gallagher – and Norwegian pop producers Stargate.
Instead of emoticons, Coldplay have illustrated this feeling with the spectrum of colours – à la Jamie xx, or Radiohead’s In Rainbows – and their newfound equanimity with “the flower of life”, a geometric doodle also used by emo band Bring Me the Horizon, the latter almost certainly a coincidence.
Coldplay have tended to absorb their influences more transparently than most. And for all the novelties here – electronic touches, chiefly – many echoes of U2 and Arcade Fire remain. As this album wends its way through departures and retrenchments, it feels very much like a transitional work, with the foursome dipping a toe into unfamiliar waters, keeping the other foot firmly on the shore.
On the one hand, you have lead single Adventure of a Lifetime, all flute loop and easy funk, a Hawaiian-shirted holiday from the earnest piano rock. “We are diamonds/Taking shape” is one of Martin’s better lyrics. It’s brand-busting, but hardly groundbreaking. Halfway through Army of One, Martin goes a little R&B (his heart goes “bu-boom-bu-boom-boom”) and you get a sense of what this album might have been.
Mostly, it’s business as usual, with more programming. Just two minutes and 20 seconds into the opening, title track, we find the first anthemic “oh-woah”, something of a Coldplay trademark; the kind of thing that has helped sell them in non-anglophone markets. Coldplay’s USP has always been epic consolation, and so it proves here once again on the final track, Up & Up, a singalong that’s hard to resist.
The reinventions just aren’t brave enough. A promised pop takeover by Stargate never quite materialises on Everglow – another Coldplay piano ballad, remarkable for being about the split and featuring Gwyneth Paltrow on backing vocals. If you are the kind of person who shares Facebook posts of inspirational quotes, there’s Kaleidoscope – an interlude featuring a Rumi poem about mindful acceptance, followed up by a snippet of President Obama singing Amazing Grace at the funeral of South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney. A poignant touch, but hardly the stuff of dreams.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010