Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Coldplay: Head Full of Mush

Long-time readers know that Coldplay is my favorite contemporary band.  It does not bother me that the more success they attain in terms of popularity, the more the critics put them down.  Coldplay may be the essence of kitsch for all I know.  But, I don't care.  Their music makes me feel good.  That is why I listen to them.

But their most recent effort, A Head Full of Dreams, is a full-throttle disappointment to me.  I suppose it continues with a transition in style the band first began with 2014's Ghost Stories.  Unfortunately, with their latest record, the transition has gone so far that, for me, the band has become a stranger, invisible.  This is Coldplay being something that is not, for me, Coldplay at all.

Normally with a Coldplay album, I listen to it a couple of times and end up with a tune or two resonating in my mind off and on over the next few weeks.  I will catch myself humming a new Coldplay song while driving or just sitting at my desk.  New Coldplay music becomes a part of my life and puts a smile on my face.

Not so with this new material.  What began in Ghost Stories as a changeover from Coldplay's distinctive guitar-accented, alt rock sound into more of a synthesized, dance club sound has devolved completely into this dance beat, guitar-minimized offering that, frankly, sounds like about 100 other ordinary bands.  When I listen to this new album I find that after about 15 minutes I am so ready for the beat and crooning and the wailing to stop.  Just stop it! 

After one listen I have not been able to get through the entire effort again.  It sounds sooo mediocre.  Normally, even mediocre Coldplay is better than a lot of other music.  In this case, this is mediocre Coldplay pretending to either be something they are not or something they never should have become.  (Not everyone agrees with my assessment, of course.  And if you look at how this album is selling, the bottom line is a lot of money for these guys.)

Taken as a whole, the album fails to offer much diversity of sound.  The title track, "Birds", "Adventure of a Lifetime", and "Army of One" all seem to have the same blasé instrumentation, lyrics, and dance-able beat.  The problem with the beat is that fails to inspire anything in me.  It all sounds like the same mediocrity repeated beyond my capacity to tolerate.

"Everglow" (featuring Chris Martin's previously "uncoupled" lady 
Gwyneth Paltrow) and "Fun" slow things down a bit but they are nothing special and they are certainly not "glowing" or "fun".  Instead they are a collection of cliche lyrics and playing that is so middle-of-the-road they are more like road kill than easy-going.  Blah.

The album's strongest tracks are "Hymn for the Weekend" (featuring Beyoncé), "Amazing Day", and "Up&Up".  All of these attempt to capture the joy of life and friendship and opportunity.  They are optimistic and heartfelt, which, of course, is why I enjoy Coldplay so much.  But, compared with their overall body of work, the synthesized (commercialized) heart and soul of these tracks sound more like cardboard cutouts than the real band.  Though listenable, I would not rate any of these three songs among Coldplay's best work - and, unfortunately, these are the best this album has to offer.

Being a worldwide music phenomenon, Coldplay will play the halftime show at the upcoming Super Bowl in 2016.  This has brought out the best in those who hate the band.  It is already being called the most "boring" halftime booking in history. As I mentioned above, the band's detractors have grown more prominent with each year of increasing success.  I suppose doing the Super Bowl halftime show is the highest (or lowest) manifestation commercial success.  So, perhaps it is fitting, that this opportunity now comes to the band at precisely the moment when they have dissolved into musical blandness.   

Rumor has it that this might be the final Coldplay studio album.  If that is so they are definitely going out with a whimper, or better yet, make that a whine.  I will likely still go see them live, if given the chance.  They put on a terrific, energized, fun show.  But this material will not be a draw for me, maybe it will offer an opportune moment to go get a beer until the real Coldplay decides to present itself in the concert venue again.

But, assuming there is a future for the band, if A Head Full of Dreams represents Coldplay's new trajectory then as a fan I can only hope they start communicating a little more from their heart than their head.  They have become mechanical, naively sentimental, their joy and energy feel counterfeit without any of the edginess and bite that made their always upbeat songs and ballads not only tolerable but often brilliant.  Head Full of Mush, Ear Full of Yawns might be a better title for this one. 

5 out of 10 stars. Or two and one-half stars in the Amazon rating system.  As of today's post the album is #8 in all of music and #3 in rock on Amazon. The record was released this past Friday.  

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