Coldplay has come a long way through their career. It’s a powerful creative tool when, as a band, you have the control to make the kind of record you want to make. Despite being on a major label, it appears that Parlophone has allowed vocalist and primary songwriter Chris Martin and Co. to really take their time with each album, and create music they love. Martin was on record when they were working on Ghost Stories that this album would be more stripped down, but still Coldplay. Many fans and critics took this to mean that the band would be returning to the Parachutes era, where the songs were less anthemic and more acoustically driven. Thankfully, the band took a different direction. Not to say that Parachutes isn’t a great album, but it’s comforting as a fan and as a critic to see bands continually pushing their creative limits. That’s exactly what Ghost Stories does.
Even from the opening salvo of “Always In My Head”, listeners are drawn into a much more atmospheric aura than ever before from the British band. Percussion is a key element to the entirety of Ghost Stories. Much of the anthem-style cuts that flooded Viva La Vida and Mylo Xlyoto are gone, and are replaced with a slow, measurable buildup on several tracks. “Magic” is a perfect single, albeit with a solid electronic beat and gentler vocals from Martin. As many have been quick to point out this year, much of Ghost Stories focuses on relationships, and failed ones at that (notably stemming from Martin’s recent divorce from Gwyneth Paltrow). But the more interesting tidbit is that while the songs tend to focus on the failures, the feel of the album stays upbeat. There’s even a happy type of feeling in many of the tracks (“True Love” is a perfect example), and while it’s certainly not fair to think Martin is better off without Paltrow, one can’t think that some of these songs give a message of “I’m okay”. A sense of rest, and solitude, perhaps? Whatever it is, Coldplay has taken what many view as utter destruction and created an album of songs that encourages looking on the bright side. It’s not nearly as depressing or melancholy as some might have expected.
“Midnight”, while serving as a single, showcases some of the most sweeping changes for the band. Borrowing from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Coldplay employs the vocoder and twists melodies around for a very “Perth” style cut. Elsewhere, “All Your Friends” is the closest to something from previous albums and captures Coldplay as they once were. At first listen, the track might feel a bit out of place, but repeated listens warrant a reexamination. Speaking of out of place, the biggest hit from the album, “A Sky Full Of Stars”, is inserted in the back end of Ghost Stories. Easily the most upbeat cut of the short record, the only thing that feels out of place is the tracks placement on the album. More acoustic tracks abound after the bombastic track, including “Ghost Story” that feels the most like Parachutes: a stripped down tale of ghosts once passed. The high intensity of “A Sky Full of Stars” works wonders for Coldplay, and captures a moment unlike any other on Ghost Stories, but it might feel even more magical had it been tacked on as the final cut. To go from such a laid back stance for much of the album and then insert this nearly techno-pop track and then bring the volume all the way back down again with “Ghost Story” and “O”; it might throw listeners off.
Overall Ghost Stories is another worthwhile installment in the Coldplay discography. Some sounds and structures might be borrowed from other artists (did anyone else get a feeling of Tycho on some of this album?), but kudos go to Chris Martin and Coldplay for not sticking to the same old script. Creatively, Ghost Stories is sure to bring some new fans in, and old fans should be just as impressed with the light-hearted nature of this new album. Fly on.