A Head Full of Dreams
nolead ends Coldplay goes disco is the three-word shorthand that pretty much sums up the bombastically mild British quartet's seventh album. It's a deliberate yang to the yin of 2014's Ghost Stories, a head-down-at-the- piano (though, of course, ultimately uplifting) platter occasioned by the breakup of Chris Martin's marriage to actress Gwyneth Paltrow. (Just so we know how evolved and getting-along-nicely-for-the-sake-of- the-kids the exes are, Paltrow sings backup on Head's "Everglow.")
Though Ghost Stories tended toward the solemn and shadowy, Head puts on a Technicolor dreamcoat and heads out on the town. A sound track to the public life of a newly single dad who suddenly finds himself dating Jennifer Lawrence (a now-kaput liaison said to be the subject of "Adventure of a Lifetime"), Head works hard to get you to shake your booty and think deep thoughts, too. "Life has a beautiful, crazy design," Martin sings in "Amazing Day," and "Kaleidoscope" not only contains a reading of 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi (by American poet Coleman Barks), but also self-importantly includes a sample of President Obama singing "Amazing Grace" at a Charleston, N.C., church as part of a funeral in June for mass-shooting victim the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney. All that might make Head sound heavy-handed, but as produced by Scandinavian dance-pop-makers Stargate and featuring guest spots from Swedish pop singer Tove Lo and, yes, American superwoman Beyoncé - presumed surprise guest when Coldplay plays the Super Bowl half-time show in February - the quite catchy music is in fact lighter than air. Which renders Head more fun than your typical Coldplay album, but not more substantial.
- Dan DeLuca
nolead begins R. Kelly
nolead ends nolead begins The Buffet
nolead ends nolead begins (RCA ***)
nolead ends R. Kelly contends he wrote 462 songs for his 13th album of sex, sentimental soul, and heavenly salvation. That seems an awful lot of stress for these 13 casual songs (18 on the deluxe version, and well worth the extra money).
It's not that this album's delightfully sonorous mix of torrid and tender isn't equal to his best. He can do anything, whether it's singing, composing, or producing (e.g., his work with the latter-day Isleys). On the aptly titled The Buffet, there's a relaxed song about barbecuing, "Backyard Party," that, shockingly, isn't a sexual metaphor (he saves the heavier-handed stuff for "Marching Band" and "Poetic Sex"). There's oddly passable blues and C&W on "Sufferin' " and "Barely Breathin'." There's even a touching love song for and with his daughter Ariirayé in "Wanna Be There."
It's not a lack of variety or even passion - portrayed in the trembling "Get Out of Here with Me." The worry with The Buffet is that it all seems so easy for Kelly by this point that even the most sensual vocal run, stirring soul vibe, or angular hip-hop rhythm (as in "Switch Up") is rote, devoid of density, fury, and real ardor. The Buffet is great, but not challenging. And Kelly's talents require challenge.
- A.D. Amorosi
nolead begins Jim Lauderdale
nolead ends nolead begins Soul Searching
nolead ends nolead begins (Sky Crunch ***)
nolead ends Known primarily as a songwriter - and an exceedingly prolific one - Jim Lauderdale is also an engaging and versatile performer who has made albums with everyone from bluegrass elder Ralph Stanley to Americana band Donna the Buffalo. This two-disc set of all-original material puts his stylistic diversity in sharp relief.
Vol. 1, subtitled "Memphis," where it was cut, features all R&B. It's a style that proves tailor-made for the North Carolina native, whose honeyed drawl swoops, soars, and seduces over arrangements flush with horns, keyboards, and female backup singers. Late Al Green producer Willie Mitchell would no doubt have dug it.
Vol. 2 shifts the scene to "Nashville," and all it shares with Vol. 1 are producer-guitarist Luther Dickinson and drummer Cody Dickinson. The collection ranges from atmospheric reveries to taut rockers and elegant country-soul. Also, compared with Vol. 1, more of the songs here look outward, including the buoyant but biting social commentary of "One Big Company," which is the set's one piece of straight-up country - another genre Lauderdale excels at.
- Nick Cristiano