Coldplay’s new album, Ghost Stories, was one of the most anticipated releases of the year even before Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, the band’s front man, split after 10 years of marriage and introduced us to ‘conscious uncoupling’ — the idea that you can love your partner and still choose to leave them. But the announcement of the split has helped shed some light on the record’s narrative, although none was needed to decode the fairly straightforward musings on separation and heartbreak. The group’s sixth album finds Martin wading through the sadness that accompanies a breakup, a theme that succinctly ties into his personal life.
Over the course of nine tracks, Ghost Stories, that follows 2011’s divisive album Mylo Xyloto, dwells on melancholy, offering sparse arrangements that employ acoustic and electronic touches to emote its feelings of loss and longing. Decorated with Míla Fürstová’s delicate artwork, and penned and co-produced by the band with the help of collaborators, including Tim Bergling, Paul Epworth and Jon Hopkins, the record sees Coldplay step away from their standard anthemic stadium-fillers and opt for more subtle, mellow tones.
The gentle album opener ‘Always in My Head’ and the touching piano ballad closer ‘O’, summarise the album competently while the tracks in between range from haunting to lifeless. The electronic melancholy of the intriguing ‘Midnight’ is beautiful but too reminiscent of the band Bon Iver’s music to feel original or fresh. ‘Ink’ wastes a lovely Peter Gabriel-esque melody on cloying lyrics. And, perhaps in a bid to seem current, the penultimate song, ‘A Sky Full of Stars’, jarringly thrusts DJ Avicii into the proceedings, creating a sound that seems desperate to pander to the masses and is as a result completely out of place on the album (albeit right at home on the charts). Strip the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) star’s tired production from the single and you’ll be left with something more distinctive and in keeping with the feel of the record.
Sentiment wise, Ghost Stories turns out to be a breakup album that doesn’t really go anywhere. Instead of ploughing through the stages of grief, the record mostly flatlines at depression. The set is often so preoccupied with its own misery that it forgets to progress to other emotions. And perhaps it might have helped if the pretention of the breakup that accompanied it had not painted our experience of this record and let us discover the songs on their own merit.
As it stands, Ghost Stories lacks the grandeur of the terrific Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends and the charm of A Rush of Blood to the Head, but it does offer some beautiful sonic touches and heartfelt, honest moments. It is mostly cohesive — with ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ being the glaring exception — and succeeds in creating a melancholic mood. The album doesn’t offer anything particularly new or original, nor does it venture into different, unexpected territory but grows on you eventually. Although fans of the band are more likely to connect to this mellow side of the group, Ghost Stories doesn’t really do anything to convert the band’s detractors.
Sameen Amer is a Lahore-based freelance writer and critic. She tweets @Sameen
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 15th, 2014.
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