By Varun Kumar
Coldplay has to be one of the most polarizing acts in today’s music scene.
They have one of the most loyal fanbases, yet their haters think of them as a lazy and generic U2-knockoff. While I do admit that their last studio release, Mylo Xyloto (2011), was a terribly written (even by Chris Martin’s standards) and lazy artistic effort, their other albums aren’t all that bad.
Rush of Blood to the Head is actually a very cohesive and well-written album. Viva La Vida is easily the band’s most ambitious and mature work to date, with some very interesting variation in sound throughout. Their new album, Ghost Stories, seems to be Coldplay at its most stripped back and intimate, which will surely divide their fan base and probably expand the hater-circle.
While Ghost Stories is technically a Coldplay album, it is really more of a solo album from Chris Martin. A lot of this album relies more on studio drum loops and electronic sounds than on Will’s drumming. Even Johnny’s guitar riffs are almost entirely absent. This is like a more emotional and childlike version of Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots.
The album is structured around the recent divorce between Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, with a lot of songs dealing with the pain of losing love. ‘Always in my Head’, the opener, is one of the few songs on the album that actually features drumming, as well as a minimal guitar riff from Johnny. It is also one of the most depressing tracks on the album, as there seems to be no way out of this slump for Martin. The second track, ‘Magic’, really is the perfect Coldplay single. It’s the most traditional song on the album, featuring a very uplifting and catchy acoustic sing along at the end, and the lyrics are even more interesting. When this single came out, the news of the divorce was still unknown, and to many fans, the song was just about the after0effects of a fight. News of the divorce shed an entirely new light on the meaning of the song, and to hear Chris remain happy despite such a sad event has a natural beauty all on its own. This happens again on “Ink”, a song that despite a very upbeat and poppy vibe, is lyrically a very sad track about Chris comparing the absence of his love to the removal of a tattoo. Perhaps the most interesting guest on the album is Timbaland, who includes the drums to “True Love”, which also features an atonal guitar riff from Johnny at the end. Heartbreakingly, Chris sings, “Tell me you love me. If you don’t then lie.” The album spirals on towards depression and bittersweet disintegration until the euphoric explosion of “A Sky Full of Stars” and finally the more hopeful and beautiful ballad “O”.
For the most part, the album holds back, which is rare for a Coldplay album. There were many moments on the tracks where it seemed like it was going to explode into a stadium anthem. Then it just faded away or progressed into something else. Really, the only time the album decided to include a huge, blaring track is with “A Sky full of Stars”, which is also just an incredibly generic and lazy version of the already generic “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” from Mylo. This song is easily the glaring flaw on this album and was a huge misfire from Coldplay in trying to inject euphoria into devastation. Needlessly too, as “O” brings us some hope in this bleak vision of despair.
Aside from the occasional cringe-worthy lyricism and instrumentals that sometimes leave you wanting more, this is a very well done breakup album from a band that normally doesn’t understand what barebones minimalism is. There is clearly pain and sorrow in Martin’s singing, which certainly helps bring the shallow lyricism some depth. It is also Coldplay’s most cohesive album since Viva La Vida, although not as interesting, well written, or as diverse. Still, despite some flaws to the album, the honesty and consistency places this as one of Coldplay’s better efforts.
Standout Tracks: Midnight, True Love, Ink, O, Always in my Head