Review: Coldplay's haunting, atmospheric 'Ghost Stories'
“Ghost Stories” is Chris Martin’s equivalent of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” Bob Dylan’s “Blood On the Tracks,” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel Of Love.”
No, I’m not suggesting that Coldplay’s latest, out this week, will have a similar endurance or that it packs a gut punch like these three seminal albums, only that it is the latest in the pantheon of albums chronicling the breakup of a long term marriage or relationship where the artist lays himself/herself bare.
“I just got broken, broken into two,” Martin sings on the lilting “Magic.” And yet, as he goes on to sing on one of the album’s strongest tracks, the EDM-influenced, soaring “A Sky Full of Stars,” featuring Avicii, “I don’t care if you tear me apart,” because his ex-love is so radiant that being in her orbit is enough to warrant any pain. Even “Magic” ends on an up note. When asked if he believes in “Magic,” he declares “of course, I do.”
So while Martin opens a vein here to dissect the dissolution of his marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow, he leaves us still an optimist about love. That may be a healthy resolution, but part of what makes the aforementioned break-up albums such masterpieces is that the protagonist is, for the most part, left bitter and, if not shattered, at least very cynical, at the end.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments of ache here. On “Another’s Arms,” he laments how much he misses even the most mundane, and lovely, romantic activities: watching late night TV with bodies entwined (“your body on my body”). Now, she’s in “another’s arm.”
The album ends with the lovely “O,” the first part of which is tender, piano-led benediction to his lover, wishing her well as she “flies on” to her new life. The track comes back after nearly two minutes of silence with the ethereal ghostly voices that open the album on “Always In My Head” and appear on the Zero 7-like “Another’s Arms.”
Martin’s words are front and center here, but the real star is the production. In addition to the aforementioned ethereal voices, the album moves along on an ever-changing atmospheric, haunting bed of sound that makes all nine tracks feel like, as the title suggest, ghostly.
Martin is expressing the kind of dark-night-of-the-soul thoughts that often come to us after the sun has gone down and our filters have vanished. Though there’s the usual Coldplay piano-pounding here in spots, by and large, it’s been replaced with synthesized loops, blips, and drum machines.
While there may be some (including me) that miss the big anthems, there’s something inviting about a band trying something new at this stage in its career, such as on “Ink,” which has a melodic backdrop similar to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” set to a continuous electronic rhythm or "Oceans," a sparse track on acoustic guitar with an occasional electronic beep dropped in or a slight swell of strings, as Martin sings about what it's like to find yourself "alone in this world."
“Ghost Stories” take Coldplay listeners on a different kind of journey than they’e gone on before. The album delivers none of the catharsis that other have provided, but it’s a fascinating look into the collective head of the band (and especially Martin’s) to see where they may be headed next.