By Antony. The world only stops for Adele. When most artists release an album, it disperses across various media outlets, climbs the iTunes download chart, and then, more than likely, disappears into the informational oblivion of the internet. Even a band as big as Coldplay is at risk of this happening to them.
Even as we continue turning art into information-packets, I knew the release of Coldplay’s A Head Full Of Dreams would be for me a small community event. The very same internet that destroys history also enables one to keep in touch with friends near and far. As I put on the new Coldplay on Friday, December 4th, I imagined three of my friends doing the same wherever they are.
I imagine it a cold winter morning in DC, my friend finishes uploading the album to share, downloads it to his phone, puts on his coat, and heads to the Metro. I imagine him on the train, thick with the steam of people moving from the cold into the packed car; the tunnel lights whiz by as he tries to make sense of his initial impressions of the first few songs until he gets to his stop, makes his way off the train and into the cold. A real believer burned once too many times by Coldplay, he knows the album isn’t as bad as he feared it might be. He feels the tug of true belief once more. He claims agnosticism, but continues to hope the second half of the album will sweep him off his feet the way A Rush Of Blood To The Head did.
Across the country, on a crisp but sunny morning in Los Angeles, my second friend takes in the spectacular view of the Pacific from his firm’s windows, his mind already occupied with the matters of the day ahead. He puts on the new record, having prepared his cynicism for an easy victory. And there are victories to be had here. Dig into Chris Martin’s lyrics and you’ll find a couplet capable of ruining an entire song. The featured guests threaten a sad play for pop-relevance. But listening, my friend finds himself in-between. Still unable to embrace Coldplay, he also realizes this album isn’t Mylo Xyloto 2. [That album, among my friends, is universally recognized as a catastrophe. It actually hurt me to listen to it.] Falling short of being a surprisingly great album and failing to provide the sugar-rush of cynicism, I imagine this album will quickly fade for my friend. He’ll listen a couple of more times, but it’ll be habit more than desire, and soon it will be forgotten.
My third friend recently moved to the beautiful, forested coast of northern Washington state. Not surprisingly, I miss him. We haven’t discovered that long-distance-friend equilibrium yet. How often do we speak? How seriously when we do? In this uncertainty, I appreciated our text exchange a few weeks back about the bizarre disco of the first A Head Full Of Dreams single, “Adventure Of A Lifetime.” Confusion and disappointment, we agreed. So on this morning, as the album loops on my second listen, I try to imagine my friend’s experience. How is he listening to it? Does he put it on for his morning walk? Perhaps silence is more appropriate in that setting. Does he steal an hour here or there? Is it a headphoned, midnight listen when everyone else is asleep? However he listens to it, what does he think? I know he appreciates the good pop hooks. His photographic memory might make it hard for him to forget the record’s missteps and to take it in as a whole. Then again, if you let it, there’s a real generosity in pop music that let’s you zero in on what you need the songs to be. My friend knows this to be true; I imagine him finding what he needs in A Head Full Of Dreams.
Coldplay – “Adventure Of A Lifetime”
I quickly figured out that I couldn’t approach A Head Full Of Dreams like other albums. Coldplay and I have history. Most recently, Ghost Stories rekindled the fire. From reading other reviews, I see that lots of people gleefully dismissed Ghost Stories, but it was the first Coldplay album in many years that I loved. Oh, I won’t defend it as a classic or anything, but it’s easily the album I’ve listened to the most in the last two years. It’s like a friend; as it loops and loops, the bumps are smoothed out until you’re left with only a good feeling. The flow of the album works—even the seemingly out-of-place rave anthem “A Sky Full Of Stars” fits. It’s the joyful release after the blues and grays of the first seven songs. Chris Martin warned us that A Head Full Of Dreams would be different; it takes “A Sky Full Of Stars” as its departure point.
On the first few listens, I nitpicked. This song seems incomplete. That song’s lyrics aren’t very good. Is that song aping Drake? I’m so bored by Drake and the Drake-ification of pop music! And really, if “Up&Up” is supposed to be the grand finale, then shouldn’t it do more? It’s thin and predictable. Then I had to stop.
I’d rather enjoy the album, so I forced myself to take up a new listening strategy. I had to reconsider how I heard it. I burned the album onto a CD, adding “Miracles,” a soundtrack song that’s a bonus track on some version of A Head Full Of Dreams. I then exclusively listened to it in my car for the next week. It worked. I was a changed man, or at least, my view of the album changed. It revealed itself to me as the big, sometimes dumb, joyous pop record that it is. To ask anything else of it seems to say more about where you are at this point in your life than it says about the album itself. As far as big pop albums go, I dig it.
I like some songs more than others, but none of that matters much. I think “Hymn For The Weekend” is ridiculous, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t singing it to myself for an entire day at work. My disappointment in “Adventure Of A Lifetime” has dissipated. I no longer wonder what exactly the song is trying to do; I feel it as a colorful burst of sound between two ballads. That’s enough. Even the reading of the Rumi poem in “Kaleidoscope” hits the right balance for me. Coldplay’s sincerity has long been their virtue and vice. Here, in the arc of the album, the reflective moment, backed with Martin’s melodic piano, works for me.
My change in perspective on A Head Full Of Dreams is made complete with “Up&Up.” I now find comfort in the song’s predictability. It’s like listening to a worship song. You already know what’s coming, but that’s okay if (and only if) you let it take you there because it’s a good place to be. Maybe it helps that it’s no longer the grand finale since “Miracles” follows it on the disc I burned. “Up&Up” is no longer the closer, but it’s the climax that now resolves into one of the finer recent Coldplay songs. If A Head Full Of Dreams is Coldplay’s final album—as some have interpreted Chris Martin’s comments to mean (though I don’t)—then I’m happy to close the circle with “Miracles” taking me right back to the “we live in a beautiful world” of “Don’t Panic,” the first song on Coldplay’s debut Parachutes.
Coldplay – “Miracles”