Coldplay - Ghost Stories Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.19.2014
Coldplay returns with their sixth studio album, Ghost Stories! But does this selection of break-up songs soar like classic Coldplay or is it a somber failure? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
1. "Always in My Head" (3:36)
2. "Magic" (4:45)
3. "Ink" (3:48)
4. "True Love" (4:05)
5. "Midnight" (4:54)
6. "Another's Arms" (3:54)
7. "Oceans" (5:21)
8. "A Sky Full of Stars" (4:28)
9. "O" (5:23)
It's hard to be a Coldplay fan these days. That isn't a comment on the band's music but instead the fact that the tide turned long ago in terms of their regard among the general music-listening public. The group that captured the public ear in 2002 with A Rush of Blood to the Head is now one of the biggest targets for many critics due to their drifting into more of an art rock sound. The public seems to have followed suit; at one point a few years ago they were labeled the band most likely to be a cure for insomnia and popular response to 2011's Mylo Xyloto was far less enthusiastic than their previous albums. However, they remain heavyweights for Parlophone Records and have yet to have an album sell less than eight million copies worldwide, proving that they maintain a strong fanbase (if not one that more vocal listeners think much of).
It's that kind of following that guarantees a big opening week for their latest LP Ghost Stories, which draws from Chris Martin's failed relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow. This would seem like ample opportunity for the band--always known best for their ability to evoke emotion--to delve into some of the classic Coldplay sound. And at first glance it's exactly what you have. Ghost Stories is a stripped-back affair, lacking the over-the-top musical moments of Mylo Xyloto and Viva La Vida in favor of a less adventurous sound. No one does love and sorrow quite like Martin and company; whether you like the cheesy, hearts on the sleeve style of the group's work you can't deny its power. With this nine-track collection the band zeroes in on it, hitting all the old beats but it feels like something's missing.
What is it, though? What's that element, the intangible that seems just out of reach? Ghost Stories is billed as a "breakup album," although Martin has said it's more about how you let the events of your past affect your present and your future. Either way, it seems almost like the group is afraid to delve too far into those feelings. The songs are more quietly accepting of the sorrow, unwilling to look underneath that acceptance to capture the emotional core. The opening track "Always In My Head" reads like a mission statement to that affect, with its minimalist ambient pop sound as Martin sings "This, I guess/Is to tell you you're chosen out from the rest." And on "Magic" he says, "And I just got broken, broken into two/Still I call it magic when I'm next to you." It's a perfectly valid emotional response and as isolated tracks the sentiments work in the way that you would expect to hear on one or two cuts. When you set your emotional through-line on this middle-ground tone between sorrow and joy, it makes criticism of the band's "boring" stature sound a little more valid.
Not every song on Ghost Stories is about resigned-yet-hopeful acceptance though. "Ink" is a very solid dream pop number, punctuated by percussion and swelling chords as the lyrics speak to a tattoo that remains after the relationship has ended. Martin's emotional honesty resonates most strongly in this one, as he sings "feels like there's something broken inside." Similarly, the subdued sound and electronic touches on "Midnight" differentiate it from the rest of the album, with tones sounding like rain drops as Martin's voice is just letting loose sounds as often as not. "Another's Arms" also hits that note to a degree; it speaks to the pain underneath that the vast majority of the album is unwilling to touch.
Unfortunately that's about all we have of emotional variation on the album; the rest of the tracks sound remarkably like the same emotional beats from the opening two numbers. "True Love" goes for the sadness in the lyrics but the sound gives it an optimistic bent, a juxtaposition that just doesn't work this time around. "Oceans" has a nice little sonar-like beep sounding its way through but the otherwise acoustic number is too sonically flat to resonate. And then, as if to remind people that they're still the band who did Mylo Xyloto they bust out of nowhere with the electropop track "A Sky Full of Stars," which is completely jarring after having lulled you in for the previous seven tracks. It's the kind of song that just doesn't suit them as a group and while it wouldn't have seemed as egregious on one of their past two albums, it is all the worse for being supremely out of place here.
Standout Tracks: "Ink," "Midnight"
Skippable: "True Love," "A Sky Full of Stars," "Ocean"
The 411: While Ghost Stories is a welcome return to Coldplay's more stripped-down style, the album falls short by failing to deliver a proper emotional journey. The nine tracks contained within largely deal with a grey area of heartache which, while a healthy place to be, doesn't make for the best possible music. It's not all bad and in some ways this feels like an album that the band needed to do so they could move onto their next one. But while such transitional albums are often necessary, that doesn't make them particularly worthwhile for the listener and that's the case here.