Coldplay – Ghost Stories
by Mike Doub (Journalism/Psychology), published May 26th 2014
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Coldplay are one of our foremost arena rock groups today, but they’re also a joke. They’re the kind of band of which confessing appreciation provokes raised eyebrows. They’re your girlfriend’s favorite band. They’re the Drake of alternative rock. In a sense the members of Coldplay are also the spiritual successors to U2, whose platitudes about peace and love paved the way for a band like Coldplay in the mainstream. Frequent U2 collaborator Brian Eno even loaned his services as producer to Coldplay on their last two albums, Viva La Vida… and Mylo Xyloto, and since that pairing Coldplay’s music has become increasingly grandiose and less substantive.
These qualities were especially evident on Mylo Xyloto, which saw Coldplay’s most all-inclusive tendencies get the better of the band. Overblown arrangements and songs about love conquering all were Coldplay by the numbers at best, blatant crossover attempts at worst (“Princess in China (feat. Rihanna),” lest we forget). Since that neon overload the group parted ways with Eno, and frontman Chris Martin parted ways – sorry, consciously uncoupled – with wife Gwenyth Paltrow. Enter Ghost Stories, the first Coldplay album since Mylo Xyloto.
In lyrical and musical content Ghost Stories sounds like a photo negative of Mylo Xyloto. It veers sharply from that album’s unwavering faith in love, and many of the songs here spell out the approaching end of Martin’s marriage, painting the singer’s heartbreak in broad strokes. Lead single “Magic” for example references being “broken in two” and being unable to move on from…someone. Later “Another’s Arms” focuses on the negative space left by a former lover, and “Oceans” is a plea to that lover and a promise of change. Martin isn’t the finest lyricist of his generation, or even on the radio right now, but untethered from stadium ambitions his words flourish on Ghost Stories. Throughout the diary entry-style lyrics are well paired with intimate arrangements, and that personal touch makes up for these diary entries reading like faux-profundity from a tween.
It’s in those intimate arrangements that Ghost Stories takes off, and the finest musical moments here are the most stripped-down. The looping guitar on “Oceans” for example recalls Parachutes –era Coldplay, and the lovely closer “O” features the band’s prettiest piano lead in years (to say nothing of the gorgeous group-vocal outro). When Ghost Stories isn’t reinterpreting an early 2000s version of its creators, it pilfers wholesale from trendy up-and-comers. Drummer Will Champion takes influence from the xx’s drum machine on tracks like “Magic” and “Ink,” and “Midnight” – the first song released from Ghost Stories – is Bon Iver as interpreted by Coldplay (if a very good interpretation of Bon Iver). The music video even takes place in the woods for Christ’s sake.
One could cry “copy-cat!” and be fairly on the money, and it wouldn’t be Coldplay’s first accusations of the kind. Doing so would ignore, however, that mainstream artists with the longest shelf lives have a habit of re-contextualizing the underground as pop – take Radiohead, or Kanye West. Moreover Coldplay’s undeniable Coldplay-ness still permeates Ghost Stories, and no listener will mistake this record as one by anyone but them. As a result naysayers will find plenty of ammo here – penultimate track “A Sky Full of Stars” is an unmitigated, EDM-pandering disaster. But for fans and the open-minded, Coldplay’s marriage of the underground with the best version of themselves will please.
Key tracks: “Midnight,” “Oceans,” “O”