Coldplay have finally embraced their own goofiness and a made big dumb pop record
How does the biggest band in the world become underrated? RICHARD S. HE delves into Coldplay’s most playful album yet to find out.
It’s not easy being a mainstream rock band in 2015. Commercially, the old ideal of the rock band – four dudes making music with guitar, bass and drums – has hit an all-time low. On one end, there’s Maroon 5, shamelessly struggling for relevance, and on the other, the Foo Fighters, who couldn’t care less. Ever since the Beatles, we’ve worshipped rock bands as counterculture icons, even when they become so big they no longer have anything to rebel against. But Coldplay have never been cool, and they’re not about to start now. They’ve found a freedom in being the biggest band in the world. The haters can hate; their fans will follow them anywhere.
On A Head Full of Dreams, Coldplay have finally embraced their own goofiness. Where 2011’s Mylo Xyloto flirted with mainstream pop trends, Dreams goes for broke. They’re making music for people who don’t believe in guilty pleasures. This is a record with a song unironically called ‘Fun”, where “Hymn for the Weekend”, featuring Beyoncé(!), actually swings, where the lead single’s video casts the band as a pack of CGI apes just for the hell of it. Amazingly, most of it works.
“Coldplay have never been cool, and they’re not about to start now”.
Ever since Coldplay broke out of their initial sensitive singer-songwriter mold, Chris Martin’s felt like a weak link. He’s the band’s only recognisable member, but he’s not enough of a rockstar. Bono’s messianic; Chris Martin’s an everyman. The rest of the band is just as egoless. So how do a bunch of introverts make hits that sound like 2015? Why not outsource the album’s production to Stargate, the Norwegians behind Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and Katy Perry’s “Firework”? In a way, Coldplay have inverted Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. There, two dance producers made a quiet, introspective disco record with a live band; on A Head Full of Dreams, Coldplay have made a grand, synth-heavy pop album with outside producers. They’ve become less and less about the instruments, and more about the vision behind them.
Rumours suggested A Head Full of Dreams might be Coldplay’s final album, but Chris Martin’s reframed it more as the end of the band’s first era; what their last six albums have been building towards. You’d expect it to be some pretentious, preachy record – yet it’s anything but. Dreams is the closest thing pop’s had to an easy-listening new age record since Enya. Coldplay should really be soundtracking Disney movies and covering ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. Which could be a bad thing, were it not so meticulously crafted.
“It’s closest thing pop’s had to an easy-listening new age record since Enya”
Wonder is an easily mockable emotion, but Chris Martin’s lyrics and limited vocal range don’t carry the songs – the production does. ‘Adventure of a Lifetime”s chorus doesn’t belong to him; Jonny Buckland’s instantly memorable lead guitar owns it. Coldplay have nothing especially profound to say, but they have more ways than ever to say it A Head Full of Dreams is Coldplay’s least serious album to date. They’ve found maturity by making a big dumb pop record, by regressing away from heartbreak toward a childlike innocence.
After 15 years on top, with no lineup changes and relatively few creative dips, Dreams is their victory lap. That’s longer than the lifespan of many classic bands. Culturally, they’ve outlasted all of their cooler peers – Muse, The Killers, The Strokes. Every criticism that’s been thrown at them was true… a decade ago. To paraphrase Steven Hyden, the people who call Coldplay boring are more boring than the band itself. How does the biggest band in the world become underrated? Now’s as good a time as any to find out.
Richard S. He is an award-winning critic at Junkee and The Essential. People still don’t take him seriously. Tweet your grievances to @Richaod.