The credits of Coldplay’s seventh album say much about the sort of group they’ve become. Duets with Beyonce, guest-spots from Noel Gallagher, sample clearances from Barack Obama – there are few bands who can pull these sorts of strings, and fewer still who’d go so far as to invite their frontman’s ex-wife (the subject of a desperate, disconsolate breakup record released just last year) and his new girlfriend to join on backing vocals. Curiously enough, however, it’s Gallagher whose name sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb: after their EDM-pop pivot and the meek, miserablist balladry of ‘Ghost Stories’, it’s been a while since they seemed bothered about being a ‘rock’ band of the sort the erstwhile Oasis guitarist usually turns out for.
From Chris Martin’s god’s-eye vantage, that undoubtedly makes a lot of sense: rock is an empty battlefield but pop is Coldplay’s new frontier, maybe even their final one, depending on how you interpret his claim that ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ represents “the completion of something”. In any case, they’ve met it with a spring in their step and the most satisfying collection of songs they’ve written in years: inclusivity is hardly a new concept for this band, but from the title-track’s ecstatic, starry-eyed expression of wonder to the gargantuan gospel-pop curtain call of ‘Up and Up’, they’ve rarely sounded so open-armed and elated. On ‘Hymn For The Weekend’, the first of two appearances from Beyonce, Martin even sings about “feeling drunk and high,” a line which – in its own totally benign, PG-13 way – may be the first drug reference to ever grace the lyrics of a Coldplay album.
The cumulative effect of all that vibrancy and positivity is not unlike that of a sugar-coated pill designed to wash away the bitter taste of ‘Ghost Stories’. Taken together, the, buoyant, disco-fied afro-pop of ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ and the Tove Lo-featuring ‘Fun’ form a sort of mini-narrative about the breathless beginning and amicable end of a brief, revivifying relationship – a refreshing change, given that Martin’s romantic entanglements usually end in plaintive minor-key torpor. Even the more ruminative ‘Everglow’ – yet another open letter to Gwyneth Paltrow – sounds sung from the light at the end of the tunnel, with Martin vowing to remain, “Brothers in blood, sisters in rhyme/ We swore on that night we’d be friends till we die.” If ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ really is to be Coldplay’s last hurrah, then they’ve gone out with a flashbang of colour and catharsis.