Thursday, January 07, 2016

Coldplay: A Head Full of... What Exactly?

There are those who believe that looking for deeper meanings in Coldplay lyrics is like looking for a coherent philosophy from David Cameron, or a balanced argument in the Daily Mail. But hey, lets try anyway.

To the seasoned Coldplayer, all the familiar stuff is here on Head Full of Dreams: singalong 'whoa-oh-oh' sections, references to birds, etc. Lyrically it's more autobiographical than ever - it feels like a depressive trying to jolly himself along, with songs called 'Fun' and 'Up and Up', and lyrics about pain and parting. Oddly, at times I was reminded of the Smiths, and their ability to combine the most downbeat lyric with an uplifting tune (e.g. Bigmouth Strikes Again). There's a clear attempt to strike a happier tone than 'Ghost Stories', but Coldplay just don't do happy - their best stuff is mostly based on anguish (Fix You, Low, Trouble, The Scientist, Viva La Vida, Princess of China). Even the rousing title track, Head Full of Dreams, can only sustain upbeat for 45 seconds at a time before unplugging the drum machine and reaching for the handheld lighter. 

Spiritual themes have loomed large in most previous Coldplay offerings, so what do we have here? What to make of this, from the opening track:
Coldplay - A Head Full of Dreams.pngOh I think I landed
Where there are miracles at work
For the thirst and for the hunger
Come the conference of birds

Saying it’s true, it’s not what it seems
Leave your broken windows open
And in the light just streams
And you get a head, a head full of dreams
Into life I’ve just been spoken
With a head full, a head full of dreams

Is this a subtle and multilayered song of hope based on Genesis 1 ('into life I've just been spoken') Elijah (fed and watered by birds), Paul (treasure in jars of clay, walk by faith not by sight). Or none of the above? If this was a U2 song, I'd confidently go for the former answer, but as it's Chris Martin I'm still not so sure.

Or this, from 'Army of One'
Stare into darkness, staring at doom
You make my heart go boom, bo-boom boom
Superhero, a masterpiece
Been innocent but a sinner in me

...I just put my hands up to the sky, feeling like
I've got a rocket, eyes on the prize
I put my hands up to the sky, I'm gonna find
Wherever you are, I'll find that treasure

Again, is this a meditation on mortality and eternity, informed by Jesus (where your treasure is there is your heart), Paul (fixing our eyes on Jesus), and an appreciation of humanity as a fallen masterpiece, or is Martin just using transcendent language for effect (see links below), as he does elsewhere on HFOD?

In the bonus track, 'Miracles'
From up above I heard 
The angels sing to me these words
And sometimes in your eyes 
I see the beauty in the world

Oh, now I'm floating so high
I blossom and die
Send your storm and your lightning to strike
Me between the eyes

Believe in miracles
Because it's not clear who this is addressed to (God, or a lover), it's not clear what it's saying. Maybe that's deliberate. Pop lyrics are peppered with references to angels and heaven that aren't anything to do with real angels and real heaven, in post-Christian culture our spiritual language floats free of the original moorings. 'Believe' can mean everything on the lips of Jesus, and nothing on the lips of a marketing campaign. 

The overriding thread running through the CD, if there is one, is that life is to be lived to the full, with thankfulness, and that even pain and suffering can be redeemed 
under this pressure, under this weight
we are diamonds taking shape

And if we've only got this life
In this adventure, oh, then I

Want to share it with you (Adventure of a Lifetime)

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival

A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor

Welcome and entertain them all!
Be grateful for whoever comes

Because each has been sent as a guide (Kaleidoscope, based on a poem by the Sufi mystic Rumi)

And you can say what is, or fight for it
Close your mind or take a risk
You can say it’s mine and clench your fist
Or see each sunrise as a gift (Up and Up)

and if there are things to be thankful for, then....
And I asked
Can the birds in poetry chime?
Can there be breaks in the chaos sometimes?
Oh thanks God, must have heard when I prayed
Cause now I always want to feel this way
Amazing day,

Meister Eckhart, a 13th century monk, is reported to have said 'if the only prayer you ever say is 'thankyou', that would be enough'. So maybe Coldplay aren't too far off the mark. 

For previous Coldplay posts
Viva La Vida
Prospekts March
Mylo Xyloto
Ghost Stories

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