Review | Ghost Stories by Coldplay

For those of you not gifted with patience, I shall make this quick. This is not a good Coldplayalbum. There are serious pace issues, with ballad-esque heartbreak dedications badly juxtaposed by modern, up-tempo contributions which make the sound seem incredibly lost. There are very feint glimpses of their past, but largely the album relies on the upper reaches of Martin’s larynx, something that, after a couple of songs, becomes uncomfortable and abrasive. Ghost Stories is supplemented also by the theme of lost love, which anyone who follows celebrity news will be able to work out is a completely un-subtle nod towards Chris Martin’s divorce from Gwyneth Paltrow.
I award this album 5/10.
Coldplay’s last album Mylo Xyloto saw the band move into a mainstream light for arguably the first time. It was a move away from their roots, uncharted territory for the quintessentially indie and somewhat different English rockers. A collaboration with Rihanna and the repetitive, catchy chorus of Paradise marked MX (Who could be bothered to call it Mylo Xyloto, seriously) as a pop-influenced disc for the masses. While there’s nothing wrong with aiming to please the general population (in fact I applaud them for it) it felt to me like the band’s soul, or certainly their older sound was a little lost. And so now, we have Ghost Stories, the ghoulishly-named follow up, and sixth studio album.
A pair of wings. Or are they lungs? Maybe ballroom gloves?
A pair of wings. Or are they lungs? Maybe ballroom gloves?
 The band made an intermittent track between this and the last album, for the second Hunger Games movie. The track, titled Atlas is not featured on this album nor any of its special editions, so I wont be reviewing that. I must say though, Atlas, within minutes, found itself well within my top 10 singles of all-time. No pressure, Ghost Stories.
 Always in my head is the first song from the album, and it somewhat impressed me. It’s extremely relaxing and I can imagine myself listening to it in a bath with candles after a long day. Not that I do that of course…
Moving swiftly onwards. There are drum machine rim clicks that sound like they are from Sting’s Fields of gold, a track with which Always in my head has a similar tempo, I feel. The lyrics are fairly simple though, as you can expect from a filler track, although one niggle is that Chris Martin decides to go into an ultra-sonic rendition of the titular line towards the end. I don’t like that, Chris. Stop that. The track feels like it’s building to something at the end before it abruptly stops at the sound of a heavy drum beat. Perhaps the band have played a clever trick in getting me to replay it so that the song will truly be “Always in my head”. Nevertheless, an average entry.
The first single to be released from the album is the second track listed: Magic, an aptly-titled song for its video which features Chris Martin in a Victorian-era circus/ magic show. The track is supplemented by a rolling bass line that sounds like it belongs in a Red Hot Chili Peppers song and as always, Martin’s dulcet tones. There’s nothing wrong with this track at all. It’s classic Coldplay: mellow, catchy, pleasantly-worded and it charted reasonably well, peaking at No. 10 in the UK singles chart and claiming top spot in Portugal. However, I feel like the song is missing perhaps one tiny element of panache, something to make the track explode. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself; it’s the first single of the album. There are echoes of the past in this song, the fading piano notes reminded me slightly of Speed of Sound, one of my favourite songs from the band, and leading single from X&Y in 2005. A good start, then.
‘Ink’ is next up, a clever allegory for the pain of love – having someone’s love and name etched into your skin (metaphorically) being the non-physical manifestation of literally having a tattoo applied to you. I set aside my dislike for tattoos while listening to this song and picked up a sweet guitar riff that sounds like a modified version of that from Tracy Chapman’s timeless Fast Car. A cutesy-sounding song to symbolise the permanence of not only tattoos, but love.
True Love is up next as track number 4 and I was immediately greeted with Chris Martin squeaking his way into pre-pubescant pitches. I think Chris Martin is a phenomenal vocalist but truth be told, his falsetto is over-used on this album. The song however is fairly well composed, with layers of strings – a powerful violin/viola base is built upon by a plucked cello. There is a small guitar solo towards the end of the song which momentarily dischords with the strings to create a more somber mood, and that reflects incredibly well with the lyric “Tell me you love me, if you don’t then lie”, making this song the hopeless romantic’s tonic. One of the stronger tracks on an ailing album.
The previous song does not end and continuously feeds in to Midnight, the second single to be released, and the first thus far that fits the title of Ghost Stories, with an almost eerie percussion dominating the whole song, and Martin’s voice synthesized and layered several times to make it a degree more chilling. The only problem with the layered voice is that it makes it incredibly difficult to actually hear the lyrics. The percussion fades and in creeps a foundation of bass guitar, a transition I barely noticed at first listen. With the bass comes an electronic beeping that makes the track some sort of fusion with pop/indie rock and progressive house music. This also fades and all metronomes disappear; the track rounds off with Martin’s synthesized voice and indistinguishable lyrics once more.
Another’s Arms is track numero six, and almost instantly sounds like a vent for Chris Martin’s relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow, after the couple separated earlier this year. The frontman’s lyrics speak of watching TV with someone (likely Paltrow) and wishing they were their, with “[their] arms around him”. It’s a reflective song by the sound of it, Martin lamenting the loss of his marriage. However, the pair still live together, which is nice. I can’t really explain why but if reminds me of The Scientist from A Rush of Blood to the Head, with similar heartfelt tones and verses. For me, this song wallows a little too much.
Martin's divorce fueled much of the album.
Martin’s divorce appears to have fueled much of the album.
Track 7 is Oceans and almost immediately sounds like it was heavily influenced by the aforementioned Atlas, with the same chords as were played on the piano in that track being reincarnated on the guitar on this track. The guitar almost acts as its own percussion in the first half of the track, jarring key changes are prevalent which make me feel like I’m walking through a desert, a dryness which opposes the titular theme of water. Rain is mentioned a lot in the song, and it weirdly finishes off with the sound of church bells being played. Another marriage-break up nod, perhaps? The bells felt really out of place; an odd finish to the song.
A Sky Full of Stars is the penultimate offering from Coldplay 6.0, with production help from Swedish sensation Avicii. The track begins with a chopped and changed piano riff which sounds just like On the floor by Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez. Thankfully, this track is devoid of “MISTAH WORL’WIIIDE” or any other such atrocities, but it is a very odd sound for a Coldplay track. After a brief build up the song erupts into a refreshing chorus with a dancey background. For me, it’s one of the best tracks of the album, but I HATE myself for thinking that, because it goes against everything I disliked about MX. I regarded Mylo Xyloto as a bit of a conformist, sell-out offering, and this song feels like the same to me. It’s the ultimate hypocrisy for me to enjoy this song, but I just do, and I’m sure you will too.
‘O’ is the finale for the regular version of the album, with a strong sybolism of “a flock of birds” flying above. It’s an extremely generic and if I may say so, uninspired thought for the band. Birds flying and the symbolism of being free seems to be a go-to imagery for songwriters. Didn’t Lynard Skynard make a song to that effect, say, forty years ago? I am surprised that Coldplay have taken it up here. Martin sings “Fly on, maybe some day I’ll fly next to you”, perhaps another metaphor for his separation-come-roomie situation with Paltrow, representing acceptance for the relationship moving on. There is a brief silence before a choir-sounding voice resonates and a bass line similar to the one in Magic permeates through too. For me, this one is just a little too generic for a band like Coldplay.
Let me put this out there straight away. Ghost Stories could have been a good album, but for me, no better. Nothing really jumps out at me (at least not yet) to put this on par with Parachutes or A Rush of Blood to the Head. I like it even less than Mylo Xyloto, and that is saying something, as that was my least favourite album from the band. I really hope this great quartet has not begun its descent into a trough, from the peaks of their first four albums.
I feel like this album is a bit of an anthology, and I don’t know that I like that. Generally, albums’ songs have a similar feel, or at least genre. This one has elements of dance, progressive rock, pop, house, indie rock and when they are mashed together with the typical
Coldplay sound (desperately lacking in some of the filler tracks) it creates something very inconsistent.
Magic, A Sky Full of Stars, and True Love stand out to me as the finest-tuned offerings from the album; the first was released in March and I dare say the second will be release in due course as a ‘summer anthem’ or something or other. For me though, there are too many generic tracks scrabbling around in the dark searching for the old Coldplay sound, which by now, seems a long way away. Let’s rate this thing.
(By the way, my ratings may include nonsensical categories and things specific to just one artist, band or album. Thought I’d let you know since this is my first album review)
Lyrical content – 4/10 – way below their best
Classic Coldplay sound – 5/10 – lacking
Album artwork – 6/10 – nothing special
Choice of Singles – 7/10
Collaborative attempts – 6/10 – Avicii breathes life into track 8.
Best track IMO (Magic) – 8.5/10
Integrity – more than last album/10
Beards – 10/10
OVERALL – 5.5/10
It may be a single released to promote a film, but Atlas in its solitary state is head and shoulders above every single song on this album. And that’s a shame. That’s a damn shame. I really hoped that it would be a precursor to excellence, but it just proved to be a false dawn.
I do like parts of this album and I dare say some of the tracks will grow on me, but it’s not a classic for me, not yet at least. I want the songs to come leaping out and take me on a musical journey, but because of some mundane and generic material, the stand-outs of the album become watered-down.

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