Review: Coldplay, ‘Ghost Stories’
On sixth album Ghost Stories, Coldplay opt for subtlety, mysteriousness, and restraint.
“I’m kind of a big deal”. That quote perfectly describes any album released by British alt-rock band Coldplay. Anytime the collective releases a new single or new album, you just know it is going to be huge news. Perhaps the only news that is on the same level as the quartet’s newest LP Ghost Stories is that of the separation between frontman Chris Martin and his A-list actress wife Gwyneth Paltrow.
What’s the connection between new album and breakup? Ghost Stories is all about a four-letter word – L-O-V-E. Maybe it’s coincidence, BUT one has to wonder how much marriage issues play a role on this album. Compared to Coldplay’s discography, Ghost Stories just may be the subtlest album of their career, seeming to think more minimally than maximally. Ultimately, it is another well put together affair, though likely won’t receives accolades for being the band’s best album.
“Always in My Head”
“Always in My Head” opens Ghost Stories moodily and mysterious; the soundscape captures one’s attention, albeit with subtlety. After releasing the moodiness, a light groove enters in carried by the drums and six-eight meter gives the track stability. Martin’s vocals are clear, while lyrically there is nothing particularly abstract or higher level to note.
Perfect examples include “I think of you / I haven’t slept…” or closing lyric “This, I guess is to tell you you’re chosen out from the rest…” A simple song it may be, “Always in My Head” does establish the fact that Ghost Stories isn’t your typical Coldplay album; it is neither the extremes of recent masterpiece Viva La Vida nor is it exactly like pop-oriented Mylo Xyloto.
“Magic” establishes a groove from the onset, taking away some of the enigma, that initiated “Always in My Head”. Subtlety remains the modus operandi for the band. In fact, subtlety and the gradual changes that characterized the minimalist movement in Classical music (1960s) play a role on this track. On this particular cut, that subtlety and pulling back works soundly for Coldplay.
The utilization of space and pacing is also a pro here, aiding “Magic” in achieving the overall sound of something ‘magical’. Lyrically, there are some nice moments, though this cut is still no poetic tour de force:
“And I just got broken / broken into two / still I call it magic / when I’m next to you.”
But even with the rubs, Martin’s falsetto remains in play, and the intensification during the bridge section infuses more energy into the single overall.
“Ink” sports a solid percussive groove once more, and the sound also possesses a pop-sensibility. Coldplay on both Mylo Xyloto and now Ghost Stories show their willingness to assimilate to trendiness in music. For a band of epic proportions such as themselves, this is both a blessing and curse. But anyways, on “Ink”, there is plenty to praise. The lightness of the track continues to bode well in the band’s favor, even if it’s the quietest we’ve seen Martin and company.
Pacing continues to be in play, with a shorter second verse finding the front man singing louder and in his higher register compared to the first verse. The vocal production enhances Martin (sometimes he comes off as too nonchalant), while the bridge predictably showcases ‘growth’ but still feels incredibly poised and controlled. “Ink” still remains firmly invested in love, and as the title suggest, possesses a haunted, ghostly nature overall.
“True Love” (featuring Davide Rossi) opens with a driving synthetic sound, once more a clear influence of minimalism. Martin’s vocals continue to possess an airy quality that is smooth with a hint of coarseness. Generally, though, Martin eschews vocal grit and doesn’t play into the ‘power’ game. The harmonic progression – particularly following the ‘makeshift refrain’ – is well conceived, once more playing into the title.
“True Love” is pleasant as it should be, enhanced further by the lush strings and a truly thoughtful guitar solo with bent tones and some grit to contrast the more plush, luxurious sounds generally. Like true love can be itself, “True Love” the song is a bit self-indulgent considering you’re fulfilling that warm, fuzzy spot inside.
“Midnight” is arguably the most experimental track of Ghost Stories. It will appeal to the school who truly embraces more experimentation, while it may be off-putting to those who prefer a more traditional approach. It offers a change of pace that isn’t perfect but is a necessity to break up any sense of monotony given the script of Ghost Stories.
The use of pitch correction (yep autotune) and vocal effects is shocking for old school Coldplay fans, but matches the sentiment of this track and offers a different ‘look’. The lyrics are limited in quantity, given the music itself more of a forum. The building of the groove sounds danceable – is alt-rock supposed to be danceable?