Ghost Stories by Coldplay

Ghost Stories by Coldplay

 

You’ve all read the headlines by now. The curious thing is timing of the release of Coldplay’s sixth LP: chosen to almost coincide with what may turn out to be the most high profile separation of 2014. The British quartet have fashioned a wildly successful career out of generic emo rock, so it should be interesting to see how they fare with the sort of personal issues their songs are designed to tide you over. That is, can Coldplay coldly play their way out of their own Coldplay-ish mess?

 

TRACKLIST:
#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 (Fly On) 7:47
Deluxe Edition:
#10. All Your Friends 3:32
#11. Ghost Story 4:17
#12. O (Reprise) 1:37

 

PERSONNEL:
Chris Martin: Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Jonny Buckland: Backing Vocals, Guitar, Synth
Guy Berryman: Backing Vocals, Bass, Keyboards
Will Champion: Backing Vocals, Drums, Percussion

 

PRODUCER:
Guy Berryman
Rik Simpson
Dan Green
Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley
Tim “Avicii” Bergling
Jon Hopkins
Paul Epworth

 

DATE OF RELEASE:
19th May, 2014

 

SINGLES:
Midnight
Magic
A Sky Full Of Stars
True Love

 

When their creative juices are flowing, the London rockers can struggle to squeeze two great songs into one, but that is not the case with opener Always In My Head, which is a cross between a Helios filler and a rough Christopher Cross demo. The one thing it does successfully is set the decidedly downtempo tone for the album, and no one who gets through track 1 is expecting business-as-usual.

 

That’s when the magic (pun intended) kicks in. Building off of a bass-heavy foundation reminiscent of The XX, soaring into joyful guitars in the vein of U2, and bearing a structure lifted straight off of Muse’s similarly subversive hit Madness, lead single Magic is Coldplay’s answer to all those who criticize their singles catalog as lacking variety.

 

Unfortunately, that sort of quality is not sustained. On Ink, Chris Martin stretches a tattoo metaphor to grotesque proportions, undoing any good work that the oddly familiar, gentle riff and forested production might have accomplished. When he does manage to write a decent lyric or two (True Love), then the instrumentation fails him: Timbaland swoops in with a comically epic bass drum (the sort you hear in movie trailers) – which is the extent of his involvement, by the way – and Jonny Buckland is left to glue the mess together with a solo that sounds, according to one of my colleagues, like “a horny cat wailing in the night”. Pretty rough shift for a guy who only gets two or three moments in the spotlight this time round.

 

A real tragedy, because Jonny abandoning his chiming guitar is the Coldplay equivalent of Peter Buck doing away with his jangly Rickenbacker. Even on Another’s Arms, a track that could use more of his Edge-inspired tone, his six string warbles away somewhere in the recesses of the mix.

 

Jonny’s guitar may have been the latest casualty in the electronica-driven pop world today, but there’s still room for a little irony. Oceans, harking back to the almost forgotten Parachutes era, segues into the bombastic, Avicii-produced, shiny new dance number A Sky Full Of Stars.

 

For once, the boys get the all the EDM mileage out of a meaty piano line before DJs have had their chance. So props to them for creating a readymade summer smash, one that’s actually quite good. However, like an appetizer of buffalo wings before a meal of sake and noodles, it completely breaks from the mood that has been established thus far. I realize Martin & Co. may have been under some pressure to snick in an all-out crowd pleaser, but would it really have been that difficult to replace it with an acoustic version, leaving the chart conquering to the Avicii edit as an independent single?

 

So my vote for the real star of this record goes to the effervescent, J.M. Jarre-esque Midnight. Underwritten by a solid atmospheric base from longtime collaborator Jon Hopkins, the shimmering texture of a Reactable contrasted with the laser harp provides the slow-cooked melody, which is reluctantly dragged out over the course of five minutes. Instead of showing off their musical toys with little context – as was often the case on Viva La Vida – the quartet blend their myriad electronic appendages together so it doesn’t seem out of place. It’s a testament to how well they’ve integrated this new sound into their alt-rock pastiche that a clear highlight like this would have poked out garishly – not unlike A Sky Full Of Stars here – on any other Coldplay album.

 

A great breakup album appeals to not just those who can relate to the protagonist’s woes, but those who are still madly in love, or those yet to find it. But Ghost Stories is far from that. Rather than go for the mass appeal that has been their bread and butter for so long, Coldplay delivers an intimate album, but written so impersonally that it may or may not be your cup of bitter medicine. There’s no way you’re truly enjoying it: the best you can hope for is reassurance (if you’re in the midst of a breakup) or pity (if you’re not). Even the horribly overdone Mylo Xyloto pleased the senses on a superficial level, regardless of your situation.

 

To be fair though, it’s the trapping of all pop acts. An indie band has the freedom to dish out the details with abandon, knowing the matter won’t be trivialized in the tabloids or reputations and alimony agreements damaged. And while Martin can claim that “this is exactly what we needed to make at this point in our career”, you’re left to wonder if the fans and critics feel the same way.

 

 

 

 

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