Coldplay’s “Ghost Stories” is not a fun or a happy listen, but it is a worthwhile one.
By Adam Ellsworth
Ghost Stories, the sixth studio album from Coldplay, is sparse, melancholic, and at times a little glitchy; all characteristics that have shown up in the band’s previous output but never to this extent. It’s enough to make one ask, “Who hurt you Chris, who hurt you?”
“Chris” is of course Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, and the answer to the question of who hurt him is his soon to be ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow.
This isn’t US Weekly, so there’s no point in getting into the details of the couple’s “conscious uncoupling.” Suffice to say the man who sings these songs was going through a rough patch. Still, there’s hope sprinkled throughout the ordeal, which is what makes Ghost Stories strangely affecting.
“And I just got broken, broken into two,” Martin sings on “Magic,” the album’s first single and one of its best moments. “Still I call it ‘magic,’ when I’m next to you.” Is “you” the woman he’s leaving, or the woman he’s with post-break up? Either way, this guy isn’t giving up, on life or on love, and that’s easy to admire. Not that our singer doesn’t get a little desperate at times. “Tell me you love me, If you don’t then lie to me,” he sings on the beautiful, swelling, “True Love.” That’s hard to endorse, but the way Martin sings it…hell, why not? The truth hurts, and frankly, there’s already enough pain in the world.
“Midnight,” follows, sitting smack in the middle of Ghost Stories, and it’s the coldest, most distant track on the album and in the band’s entire catalogue. Martin’s vocoder vocals, which are at times indecipherable, hover over synths and a steady, digital beat. If there’s true pain on the album, it’s here. Hide the razor blades.
The record thankfully has its upbeat moments (at least musically) though, such as “Ink,” which compares getting a tattoo with the pain of love (“All I know is that I love you so, so much that it hurts”). And there’s also the latest single, “A Sky Full of Stars,” which shows that the band hasn’t forgotten how to write a pop song. The piano/keyboard backing at times sounds like something Daft Punk did a decade ago, but then again, so does much of what’s in the Top Ten these days. There are certainly worse tunes infecting the airwaves.
It’s “Oceans,” though, that is unquestionably the highpoint of Ghost Stories, and probably the best thing the band has done since 2008’s Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends (which is unquestionably Coldplay’s greatest achievement). It’s also the closest the band comes on the album to sounding like the Coldplay of Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and X&Y. “I’m ready for it all love, I’m ready for the change,” Martin sings over an acoustic guitar and a spare beat. “Meet under sun and meet me again in the rain. In the rain.” The sun is mentioned, but it’s the rain that gets repeated. Rain. Water. “Oceans.” Rebirth. Our man is down, but he’s not out. Dammit, who doesn’t want to join Team Chris?
The album ends with the piano-led “O,” and the heartbreak and yearning is on full display. “Flock of birds hovering above,” Martin sings, and then later, of those same birds, “They fly on. They fly on. So fly on. Right through. Maybe one day I’ll fly next to you.” “O,” and Ghost Stories for that matter, is not a fun, happy, listen, but it is a worthwhile one. Then again Coldplay always are.
Adam Ellsworth is a writer, journalist, and amateur professional rock and roll historian. His writing on rock music has appeared on the websites YNE Magazine, KevChino.com, Online Music Reviews, and Metronome Review. His non-rock writing has appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, on Wakefield Patch, and elsewhere. Adam has a MS in Journalism from Boston University and a BA in Literature from American University. He grew up in Western Massachusetts, and currently lives with his wife in a suburb of Boston. You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamlz24.