Album titles can often be instructive. In the case of Coldplay, it’s easy to intuit the differences in sensibility between the Brit pop-rock quartet’s 2014 album, “Ghost Stories,” and its new release, “A Head Full of Dreams.”
That the album cover art depicts a geometric shape known as the “Flower of Life” is also a clue where things are headed. Where the spectral, downbeat “Stories” began at what sounded like a funeral and felt bleakly obsessed with the past, “Dreams” erupts at what sounds like the world’s most jubilant disco. And while this album, too, mulls the past, melancholy resignation has been replaced with a bittersweet sense of the resolute — and, crucially, hope for the future.
A happier band doesn’t always mean a better band; after all, sad songs famously say so much, and “Ghost Stories” had several lovely ones in which to wallow. But the occasional spikes of cheerfulness suit the quartet —
the dance floor and into familiar arena-pop territory.
Along with producers Rik Simpson and StarGate, Coldplay has enlisted a few friends to help get its groove back; each makes a choice contribution but never obscures. Whether it’s Noel Gallagher’s guitar and Merry Clayton’s testifying shouts infusing the appropriately titled “Up & Up” with bristling energy and soul, or Tove Lo’s sugary vocals bringing sweetness to the willowy “Fun,” this remains identifiably a group effort. (A sample of President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” — sadly, from a mass shooting victim’s funeral — lends poignance to “Kaleidoscope.”)
The opening title track has a twinkling sense of optimism; Martin croons “I think I landed where there are miracles at work,” and an anthemic “oh-whoa-oh” cry emerges from the background. That works fine as a table-setter. But it’s with the third track, “Hymn for the Weekend,” that the album truly lifts off on the wings of an angelic choir (including Beyoncé), a swaggering piano, and a euphoric, lightly funky track bolstering Martin’s exclamations of feeling high. The rubbery, Chic-esque bass lines of “Adventure of a Lifetime” keep the mood buoyant, and “Army of One” is a pleasantly woozy drifter.
“Everglow” neatly encapsulates Martin’s gift for balancing the sadness inherent in letting go with the recognition of the promise — of healing and hope — that untethering can offer. (Notably, if not particularly noticeably, Martin’s ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow contributes backing vocals.)
Clearly, the members of Coldplay haven’t completely shaken off their ghosts. But just as clearly, they’ve found joy again in “Dreams.”