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Album Review: Coldplay – Ghost Stories

3 min read

You only need to take a glance at the cover of this album to take an educated guess at what lies ahead. Two ghosts cast a lonely figure in the sky to form what would usually be looked upon as a broken heart. And it is this – a broken heart that is at the root of Coldplay’s sixth studio album Ghost Stories. Following his recent split from long term partner Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Martin and his band have taken a decided step away from the bright lights of 2011’s Mylo Xyloto, and have instead recorded the quintessential break-up album.

coldplay-ghost-storiesThose euphoric melodies and stadium filling choruses have been locked away, in favour of a minimalist, stripped-down-to-the-bones approach. At its core, the album details the dissolution of Martin’s relationship, through stories of heartbreak and helplessness, and the theme for this collection of songs is laid out for us from the word go. Always in My Head sets an ethereal scene, opening up with a distant female choir, leading the way for echoing guitars, sweeping pads and an electronic drum beat, and it is these simple ingredients that largely make up the sound of the album. Magic, Ink, Midnight and Anothers Arms all possess melodies that are simple, percussion that is mechanical and downbeat and an overall sound that is rather haunting. Their usual instrumentation has clearly been thought about and used only if absolutely necessary. There are moments that move slightly into some sort of familiar territory – A Sky Full of Stars opens up with a piano riff we’ve come to expect from Coldplay, and Martin allows his vocal chords to open up a little bit more than previously seen.

Lyrically, Martin is pouring his heart out, but in a way that doesn’t let us see all the way in. It’s almost as if he his acutely aware of the listener and of the public eye in which his relationship has been viewed. True Love, perhaps the most intimate song off the album shows calls of desperation “Tell me you love me, if you don’t then lie”.

The album is superbly produced and you get the feeling every little piece of sound was heavily thought over, each decibel an intended purpose. The attempt at making an album sound literally like ghost stories is nothing short of a spectacle, and the band have certainly achieved their goal on that behalf. Sonically, it is indeed a pleasure. However, Ghost Stories biggest failing is in its design. This is an album that talks about heartbreak, loneliness and the struggles of letting go. It tells the story of someone in emotional agony. This is all well and good for a while, but the struggles Martin had to get himself going again, eventually begin to creep into the album. Things never really take off and it leaves us almost floating in obscurity, unaware of our surroundings. For this is unfamiliar territory for Coldplay, and unfamiliar territory for their hoards of fans.

Ghost Stories is like nothing we’ve heard before from the band. It’s a step in an entirely different direction and is one that is surely going to divide opinion. After years of almost overwhelming hits, and stadium worthy anthems, we are now treated to sparsely decorated, almost underwhelming musical moments. For better or for worse, it is a brave move into unchartered waters, and for this alone, Coldplay and Chris Martin in particular should be commended.