Before I delve into this review, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should let you know that I'm a huge Coldplay fan. This record could be a steaming pile of horse manure and I would still enjoy it immensely. Luckily, Ghost Stories is not a steaming pile of horse manure, even though it does contain the worst track in Coldplay's catalogue ("A Sky Full of Stars").
The band's sixth album is definitely a departure. Anyone hoping for more "play it to the rafters", stadium pop/rock with soaring guitars will be disappointed. These don't exist here. Ghost Stories is understated and mellow. It's not a large spectacle of an album like Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends or Mylo Xyloto; case in point, the band is not donning revolutionary garb or neon colours in any of the album's promotional material or television appearances.
On Ghost Stories, Jonny Buckland's guitars linger under the surface and accent the music, rather than drive it. The same can be said of Will Champion's drumming. The real stars of the show are Guy Berryman's bass playing, which propel most of the tracks, and Chris Martin's lyrics, which are the most authentic and personal he's written since Coldplay's debut album, Parachutes. This is not surprising, given the fact that Ghost Stories is a breakup album that was inspired by the disintegration of Martin's marriage to actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
Opening track "Always In My Head" aptly sets the stage for the record by kicking things off on a sombre note. The tune begins ethereally with a choir crooning the word "unhappy", before the band breaks in with a mellow jam. A sleep deprived Martin sings:
On "Magic", Martin sings of being broken in two. While on "Ink" (one of the standout tracks on the record), he feels lost and takes pleasure in pain: "Got a tattoo and the pain's alright, just wanted a way of keeping you inside". Martin has often been criticized for his bland lyrics and, while not pulitzer prize wining material by any stretch of the imagination, they are infinitely relatable. In some cases, they are heartbreaking. On "True Love"(another standout track), Martine sings, "tell me you love me, if you don't then lie, lie to me". Coldplay hasn't written a song with such heart-on-your-sleeve ethos since "Shiver", from Parachutes, a track about teenage insecurity and unrequited love. That was fourteen years ago; it seems as if Coldplay has come full circle.
There are some missteps on this record, however. While catchy as hell, the lyrics on "Another's Arms" are unbearably cheesy. "Midnight" is good, but it's a blatant Bon Iver ripoff, while "Oceans" is a blatant Coldplay ripoff (it is eerily similar to "See You Soon" from The Blue Room EP). Ghost Stories also contains the worst song in Coldplay's entire catalogue, "A Sky Full of Stars". It's Coldplay's foray into EDM. It's generic and dated and simply horrible. Worst of all, it doesn't mesh with the rest of the album.
Despite its largely melancholy subject matter, Ghost Stories ends on a hopeful note with "O", a sweet piano ballad in which Martin sings of the need to "fly on through". This is followed by a secret track that bookends the album nicely. The ethereal choir reappears singing "unhappy", but there is a small difference this time around; an angelic voice can be heard in the background offering these words of encouragement:
On the whole, Ghost Stories is a solid album. However, it suffers from underutilizing the talents of Buckland and Champion. As a result, the record often feels like a Chris Martin solo effort.
Overall Grade = 6.75 out of 10
- The angel wings on the cover of the record also resemble a broken heart
- The album gets better after repeated listens. It pairs well with late nights and a glass of wine.
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