Ghost Stories feels like a transitional album
Released 19th May
When Coldplay dropped the sparse, eerie taster track ‘Midnight’ back in February – in a markedly un-Coldplay-like, unassuming fashion – the music world began to speculate as to whether the band, on their sixth album, had done the unthinkable: ditch all the grandeur and stadium rock hooks that have long been their trademark, and create something altogether more daring and experimental. In reality though, whilst Ghost Stories is definitely quieter and less radio-ready than 2011’s vibrant blockbuster Mylo Xyloto, it never strays too far from Coldplay’s pop formula; in today’s fickle musical climate, after all, everyone knows that you never go full Kid A.
Released and recorded amid ongoing tabloid reports of Chris Martin’s very public ‘conscious uncoupling’ (nope, I didn’t realise that was a thing either) from wife Gwyneth Paltrow, Ghost Stories has the distinction of being an album that built a huge reputation for itself before it was even released. Unsurprisingly then, lost love and new beginnings are the central theme of the record, tracing each stage almost chronologically, from the initial heartbreak of ‘Always in My Head’ to eventual acceptance and weary optimism in the tear-jerking closer ‘O’. The sound is downbeat and gentle throughout, often recalling the acoustic balladry of Parachutes – with added electronic flushes, seemingly carried over from Mylo Xyloto – which should please fans who’d long since accepted that subtlety was a thing of Coldplay’s past. For others, though, it will make for a frustrating listen, since a good number of the songs seem so benign and inoffensive that they start the bleed into one, even on repeated listens.
‘Magic’, the first proper single, is among the best here; a wistful, jangly pop track full of understated, chiming guitars anchored by toe-tapping bassline courtesy of Guy Berryman –his best contribution to the band in years. The synthy ballad ‘True Love’ and the nimble, folky ‘Ink’ are also vintage Coldplay, as well as being two of the only tracks that feel suited for inclusion in the band’s rousing stadium tour setlists. However, the side is let down by a few songs, namely the clumsy, repetitive ‘Another’s Arms’ in which Martin continually wallows “wish that you were here beside me/wish that your arms were around me” over a drab, glitchy beat. ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’, though, is the worst offender; an unremarkable, Avicii-produced number that comes off like a bad youtube mashup of ‘Lovers In Japan’ and ‘Wake Me Up’ that’s both jarringly out of place and needlessly chart-hungry.
Having taken both the colourful, garish pop of Mylo Xyloto and the artsy world music of Viva La Vida as far as they can go, it’s refreshing to see Coldplay returning to (relative) normality. Overall though, Ghost Stories, feels like more of a transitional album, and a necessary step backwards, than the next big phase in their career.