Coldplay :: ‘A Head Full of Dreams’
To even the most hardcore Coldplay fans, last year’s Ghost Stories, put together in the wake of Chris Martin’s breakup with Gwyneth Paltrow, might have sounded a little mopey. The one exception was the band’s collaboration with Avicii, “A Sky Full of Stars,” a top 10 hit that pointed in a more upbeat direction for the future. That moment is here on A Head Full of Dreams. With pop-soul producers StarGate in tow, songs like “Fun” and “Hymn for the Weekend” lift us up again. Paltrow even makes a guest appearance on “Everglow,” seemingly to let us know all is OK going forward. Don’t look for deep revelations about life here — this album doesn’t have the power of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. But if you want some reassurance that the sun will come out after hard times, Coldplay is again your band.
Troye Sivan :: ‘Blue Neighbourhood’
Australia’s Troye Sivan is a 20-year-old gay man who grew up in a Jewish community in Perth and came out at age 15. That personal experience underlines the emotional gravity of the glistening pop music on his debut album. He has been praised by the likes of Taylor Swift and Sam Smith, and for good reason. If you fell in love with Lorde’s music and are looking for where to turn next, Blue Neighbourhood is a good option. The chilliness of the musical arrangements on songs like “Heaven” live in contrast to the deeply human impact of the lyrics: “Without losing a piece of me, how do I get to heaven?” Troye Sivan is a name to remember.
Tom Jones :: ‘Long Lost Suitcase’
Set aside any preconceived notions you might hold about legendary Welsh pop crooner Tom Jones. Long Lost Suitcase is the third album he has released since 2010 that digs deep into blues-infused roots. The opener “Opportunity to Cry” gives hints to what Elvis Presley might have sounded like if he lived into his 70s, and Jones even covers Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues.” The arrangements here are subtle and put the spotlight squarely on Jones’ rich, resonant voice. On some songs, the showman in Jones milks the emotion for maximum dramatic effect, such as the nearly a cappella “He Was a Friend of Mine.” However, he is probably at his best with the simple chug of uptempo album closer “Raise a Ruckus.”
Babyface :: ‘Return Of the Tender Lover’
Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds first gained success in the music industry outside the spotlight, as a keyboard player, songwriter and producer. When he did step to the front of the stage in 1989 with the album Tender Lover, he earned multi-platinum success and top 10 pop smashes like “It’s No Crime” and “Whip Appeal.” It has been 10 years since his last solo album of original material. Despite the title, Return of the Tender Lover is not a reprise of the previous release. Instead, it sounds more like an effort to take the spirit of the original and apply it to contemporary smooth R&B sounds. The result is a pleasure to hear. The album kicks off with the joyful “We’ve Got Love” and elsewhere includes reunions with past collaborators El DeBarge and the vocal group After 7. This album is your contemporary soundtrack to a romantic winter night with the one you love.