Coldplay drop their first genuinely uninteresting album in almost a decade... Unless you're Gwyneth Paltrow
Ghost Stories is a record that's being marketed as a great break up album, in much the same vein as 'Blood on the Tracks' or 'Rumours'. But frankly, it's not even a great Coldplay album.
Coldplay – Ghost Stories (16/05/14 via Parlophone)In certain circles, Coldplay are referred to as the “British Nickelback,” which is a sentiment I genuinely can't even begin to understand. Whereas the Canadian plod-rockers have spent the best part of the last 20 years putting out the same record every other year, Coldplay have never been ones to repeat themselves. From the deflated indie-rock of their first two albums, through the stadium bombast of X&Y, the art-rock masterpiece (yes I said it and I mean it) 'Viva la Vida' and the pure pop of 'Mylo Xyloto', they have carved a niche as a stadium band who are genuinely difficult to pigeonhole. They essentially represent what their obvious fore-bearers, U2, were to the 90's. The same U2, of course, spent the first decade of the 21
st century slowly devolving into a parody of themselves, but I honestly think Coldplay are too self-aware to descend into that kind of smug indifference. That's not to say they are bulletproof though, as 'Ghost Stories' proves. The reverse snobbery that dictates Coldplay as a guilty pleasure, is something I genuinely cannot abide, which is why it pains me to say that their 6
th album is just not that good. It's not bad, not by any stretch of the imagination, but considering the harrowing emotional trauma at its centre (the album was written and recorded amidst the collapse of frontman Chris Martin's marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow), it comes across as oddly detached (aside from the understandably confessional lyrics, though lyrics have never been Martin's strong suit). For the most part. There are a few exceptional songs at its core though, and it's in these songs, where Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion reveal the subtle, experimental urges we always assumed were lingering in there somewhere. The opening 'Always in my Head' is a quietly wonderful little song that arrives on the back of some of Buckland's best guitar work and some nifty ambient tricks no doubt learned from their time spent with Brian Eno. 'Midnight', the first song aired from the album, is also genuinely terrific and (yes) haunting. Taking Bon Iver's ghostly, organic folk and adding a morbid, electronic sheen, it's one of the most achingly beautiful and sad songs the band have ever recorded. If only the rest of the album followed its lead. Of the other songs given light pre album release, 'Sky Full Of Stars', might have angered a few of the band's more aggressive fans (though the very concept of an aggressive Coldplay fan might come across as a bit of a misnomer) when it was first unveiled earlier this month, but in truth the band have been dabbling in the cheesier end of the mainstream for years now. The difference here however is that Mylo Xyloto's 'Every Teardrop is a Waterfall' was a song that suited the grand, fists aloft EDM treatment and 'Sky Full of Stars' instead feels like a generic piano ballad given a rushed and (frankly) incompetent remix to pander to the masses. It also stands out like a sore thumb on an otherwise calculatedly subtle album, like Will.I.Am deciding to drop by and 'drop bombs' unexpectedly (and unwanted) in the middle of a Low gig. 'Magic' meanwhile is by a landslide the most low-key single the band have ever released. It could quite have easily found a place on either 'Parachutes' (their 2000 debut) or 'A Rush of Blood to the Head (it's follow-up), as could the yearning acoustic ballad 'Oceans', which fares much better. Elsewhere, the crux of the matter is that there really isn't that much else to get excited about here. The album has a tendency to wash over you like a pleasant, but ever-so-slightly pointless wave of quirky ambience and glitchy electronics. There is music to absorb, enjoy and (even) love here, but then there is also music that made me wish I was listening to something else. Even amongst the die-hards, it's unlikely that Ghost Stories will be remembered as anything more than a transitional album, in much the same way 'The King of Limbs' was read as such by Radiohead fans. It's not their worst album (that title belongs to the maddeningly bloated 'X&Y') but it is their second worst album, and that's largely because it sounds as if the four-piece (who are now all approaching 40) simply don't appear to know what kind of band they want to be anymore. They only seem to know what kind of band they
don't want to be. Ultimately, Coldplay are much better at being Coldplay when they're not trying to be anyone else but Coldplay.