Words: Jack Parker
3 years ago, Coldplay had only just begun the promotional run for 5th record Mylo Xyloto. Dubbed MX, the album was filled with poppy melodies, upbeat synths and an overall new direction for Coldplay which saw their popularity skyrocket further. Almost 3 years to the day when MX’s lead single Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall was released, Coldplay are set to release their 6th album, Ghost Stories. This album couldn’t be more different from its predecessor, with its 9 songs seeing Coldplay strip back and look at things from a more personal perspective.
The 42 minute long record kicks off with hazy, Brian Eno-inspired ambience on Always in My Head. Encapsulating eerie melodies, electric drums (present throughout the whole record, courtesy of drummer Will Champion) and repetitive guitar licks, it’s a far cry from MX opener Hurts Like Heaven. Coldplay have always been seen as the ‘boring’ band due to their masses of ballads, yet the ballads on Ghost Stories are on another level. There’s clear reference to vocalist Chris Martin’s recent divorce, which is even clearer on Magic, the records lead single. Electric drums and a bassline courtesy of Guy Berryman accompany Martin’s vocals, before intertwining with reverb-laced piano chords before Jonny Buckland’s sweet guitar lines enter near the end. Bearing some resemblance to Madness by Devon counterparts Muse, Magic builds up into an emotional affair during which Martin proclaims, “Wanna fall, I fall so far, I wanna fall, fall so hard”, further referencing his personal life (the main theme on Ghost Stories). The R’n’B percussion on Ink (combined with further ambience) brings the album back down to earth with more personal lyrics (“It feels like there’s something broken inside”, sings Martin right before the chorus) and acoustic guitar lines. In the chorus, Martin tells the listener that he feels lost, in a vocal line which slightly resembles Mylo Xyloto-closer Up With the Birds. True Love is the first big highlight, with a plucked-string intro and handclap drum beats underpinning the emotion in Martin’s vocals when he sings, “Tell me you love me, if you don’t then lie”. The song brings back memories of X&Y’s Swallowed in the Sea, with an epic-yet-emotional ending, as Martin’s wails bring the song to a close. True Love is beautifully crafted song, possibly one of Coldplay’s best and most emotional. There’s a magnificent Jonny Buckland solo towards the end, as the song leads into the more experimental Midnight.
Opening with an ambient synth line and heavily auto-tuned vocals, Midnight is by far the most experimental Coldplay has gone, whilst still sticking to a recognizable sound. Over the course of its 5 minutes, the track slowly builds up before climaxing in a bass-heavy, stomping finale. The ambient sounds then lead into Another’s Arms, one of Ghost Stories other highlights. A haunting vocal line and wobbly synths make the track stand out, with twinkling percussive sounds and piano making Another’s Arms one of the best tracks on the album. Whilst the lyrics remain personal, we can see Coldplay once again experimenting with new sounds by including the eerie vocal line and wobbly, bass-heavy synths. Buckland’s guitar faintly enters around halfway through as the song breaks down and builds itself up for a big finish, dominated by the combination of a high-pitched guitar solo and female, almost choir-like vocals. It’s in songs like this where the meaning behind the album title come to life, particularly in regards to instrumentation. Oceans follows with a Parachutes-era acoustic opening, paired with a bleeping sound which wouldn’t go amiss in a harbour. Oceans is fully acoustic until the last minute or so, when vocal snippets and swirling strings enter the playing field. Its church bells and ambience-led ending segues straight into new single A Sky Full of Stars, helmed by Avicii. Although recognizably the Devonshire four-piece, the song feels more like Avicii featuring Christ Martin than it does Coldplay. On its own, A Sky Full of Stars is decent, yet on Ghost Stories it sticks out like a sore thumb. In a way, the song fits in on the album in the sense that it’s breaking away from the stripped down elements, yet it also feels like it would be better off as either a standalone single, or an album closer (sort of like the “light at the end of the tunnel”). Its large ending sees Martin’s vocals projected far and wide, as he yet again sings about his personal life. O closes the album, being fully piano-led until strings enter towards the end. It’s another example of Coldplay fully stripping it back, just like they did on Oceans. It brings the album to a sad ending, following the high of A Sky Full of Stars.
Ghost Stories is already receiving mixed reception, and there are definitely reasons for that. At times, the album seems to focus too much on vocalist Chris Martin, with two of the tracks essentially being Martin solo tracks. However, the full band songs on the album demonstrate Coldplay at their melancholic high, particularly on True Love and Another’s Arms. With no tour planned, it’ll be interesting to see how these songs will be pulled off live. It’s without a doubt that Ghost Stories is a great record yet, as with every record, there are things which are holding Coldplay back from this album being a stunner.
Ghost Stories is out on 19 May.