Coldplay’s latest offering, Ghost Stories, hit the shops on Monday, revealing a change of pace compared to its predecessor. It also strips back Chris Martin’s shell and reveals what he went through when splitting with Gwyneth Paltrow. This doesn’t mean it’s the gloomy album some would have you believe, it happens to be uplifting in surprising ways.
Much focus has been made about the album’s opening words (“I think of you, I haven’t slept”) but that’s been a hook used by some to conclude the album starts low and swims in its own self-induced depression. This must come with the territory when a band becomes the biggest in the world; there are always people ready to snipe. Also, Mylo Xyloto was high-energy grandiose commercial rock, this starts with a reserved feel. But the DNA from the previous album is there in those first gentle sounds. It’s rumoured that when the band started Mylo Xyloto they planned it to be a double album, one half of which would have featured a stripped-back sound. That never materialised and what we got was Coldplay’s extravagant peak.
Perhaps during the recording of Mylo Xyloto it was decided to save the acoustic inspired set pieces for another day, after all, they had something on their hands that didn’t deserve to be pegged back. The previous tour wouldn’t have become the action-packed fantasy if they had been obligated to include tracks from a stripped down section. It’s that side we get now with Ghost Stories, but that’s not to say it’s an afterthought or leftovers; considering the subject matter it’s all Martin’s real thoughts and his everything. What makes it progressive as a musical performance is the hint of the last album’s opening track existing in the vibe that kicks off “Always in My Head.” It’s subtle, but so was the “conscious uncoupling” of the two albums.
“Magic” is already comfortably sitting alongside songs like “Fix You.” It’s remarkable after all these years they can seemingly produce such a classic at will. Any doubters about the positive nature of the record need look no further. Has a break-up song before now ever been so thankful for the former relationship? The following song, “Ink,” lyrically may delve into Martin’s pain but it’s counterbalanced by the chirpy beat. It’s only when we get to “Midnight” that we wallow in an electric purgatory as we contemplate the meaning of his loss.
“Another’s Arms” continues this idea in a more tangible light. The choir that leads us into the song shows that the duet with Rhianna is now light years away from the way to achieve dramatic effect. This reflective Mylo only needs his thoughts.
The song that follows steps away from the new-DNA and could have easily been on the Brothers and Sisters EP. Having said that, “Oceans” doesn’t feel out of place, which can only be testament to their talent. It could well be this flip-back to the older sound that has made some liken the entire album to Parachutes, some have even mentioned X&Y, but Coldplay have evolved into a different band since those albums. Music is like comedy, very subjective, so some new fans will be disappointed it doesn’t follow up with a sound similar to the last album, while at the same time long serving fans with cling to anything indicating that the old Coldplay still exist. One song shouldn’t pigeon hole an entire album, though.
“A Sky Full Of Stars” follows and, personally, I see it as the only dip across the nine songs. There’s no doubt it’ll be a singles hit and a soundtrack to the summer. And critics of albums that linger in self-pity too much, accusing them of becoming drab, may welcome a dancey number, but it feels disingenuous when viewed as part of a concept album. I won’t go as far to suggest it was just made for a commercial hit, but if others do I won’t correct them.
“O” is the sort of uplifting song that exists so we don’t need a forced, false, jumpy peak. The lyrics form a beautiful metaphor of hope and acceptance, with a simple bass and piano for company. On the subject of lyrics, some areas of the press have criticised Martin’s efforts as being overly simple and lacking depth. While I’ll admit there aren’t any profound statements that better quantify the loss of a human relationship found here, what we do get served works well in the arena that’s been set. Also, when in the eye of the storm, still in the moment of heartbreak, it’s hard to step back and describe one’s true emotions – everything is too raw.
Years from now Martin may see the woods after stepping back from the trees and revisit this painful period with better clarity. In those intervening years this album will take its rightful place amongst their best. You won’t always fancy lively Coldplay, or guitar Coldplay (I think I’ll always have a spare hour in my day for A Rush of Blood To The Head) but when you want chilled Coldplay this is where you’ll go. I have faith that wherever they decide to take the sound next will be a story worth listening to.