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REVIEW: Coldplay – “Ghost Stories”

Wednesday, 18 June, 2014

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After his divorce – sorry, “conscious uncoupling” from Oscar-winning, chia-munching, somehow-annoying-everyone, never-ageing superhuman Gwyneth Paltrow, no one was quite sure how Coldplay frontman Chris Martin would take it. Would heartbreak spur him on to new artistic heights? Or would he collapse into a sobbing wreck, blasting T-Swizz as he lay on the couch crying over a tub of Ben & Jerry’s like most of us mere mortals would?

Thankfully for us Coldplay fans he chose the former. Coldplay’s newest offering Ghost Stories is good. Gosh darn it, it’s good.

The album is clearly inspired by Martin and Paltrow’s marital troubles. But while the overall tone is dark and lonely, there are some brighter tracks that not only provide a break from the all the sadness, they actually fill you with joy and hope. It’s essentially a concept album that follows the emotional stages of a break-up: initial confusion and desolation all the way through to acceptance.

I can’t think of a better way to describe the sound of the album other than “acoustic electronic”. Or, if you’re already a Coldplay aficionado, think Mylo Xyloto meets Parachutes. Yes, the instrumentation is mostly electronic, but it’s not the bombastic explosion of the band’s 2011 offering. It’s sparse, shimmering and meditative.

Opening with the mesmerising Always In My Head, the hypnotic mood of the album reaches its peak with the sixth track Midnight, where Martin’s vocals are multitracked and distorted over sparse glimmers of synth. The following track Another’s Arms is the quintessential “I miss you” break-up song and it’s a superb example of Martin’s knack for lyrics that make you want to simultaneously sing along and rip your heart out, because goddamnit, these feels are just too much.

The Avicii-produced penultimate track A Sky Full Of Stars is an interesting one. I’ll admit I was sceptical. Yes, it’s thumpy and there’s a big screechy build up to the chorus, but…well, just trust me, when you hear it you’ll want to throw your hands up, spin around and dance through your house. It’s this album’s Paradise or Viva La Vida – the song that you have to scream out at the top of your lungs because it just makes you so fucking happy.

The album closes with O, a piano driven ballad comparing the doomed love affair that provides the subject material of the album with a flock of birds flying away. It’s classic Coldplay, and it’s beautiful.

The album also features a quintessential Coldplay trick: the bookending of the start and end of the album with the same instrumental music: entrancing layers of dreamy voices (actually those of Martin’s own children – fun fact for you) interspersed with glimmers of synths. It’s misty and eerie and strangely soothing. It provides a circular structure to the album, which ties everything up really nicely from a technical perspective and is also just really awesome.

Ghost Stories continues Coldplay’s tradition of innovation with every album; it sounds like nothing they have released before. So whether you need a break-up album to wallow in or you just want to listen to some good music, Ghost Stories is here for you. Now, quick, someone get me Chris Martin’s phone number…