Let’s just get this out of the way: I’m a massive Coldplay fan. They were my favorite band throughout high school and the beginning of my college career; I own all of their albums on CD and vinyl, and I cried my eyes out the first time I saw them live in June of 2012. I love Coldplay.
It’s my love for the band that makes me feel even more disappointed by the fact that I’m not impressed by their new album, Ghost Stories, released in the States on May 19.
By this point, Coldplay fans and many non-Coldplay fans are aware of Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent “conscious uncoupling,” and that knowledge is important to keep in mind when sitting down with this album. It is undeniably a breakup album, and along with that label comes the mournful lyrics and melancholy sounds that are so characteristic of the genre (and of Coldplay’s sound in general).
At times, the album is a beautiful, heart-wrenching ode to a lost relationship; tracks like “Midnight,” “Another’s Arms,” and “O” are tracks that will join the ranks of Coldplay classics. Martin’s vocals remain as crystal-clear and effective as they have ever been, the rest of the band’s instrumental work is remarkable (guitarist Jonny Buckland in particular shines on “True Love”), and – at times – the lyrics are moving and emotional (“got to find yourself alone in this world,” “fly on, ride through; maybe one day I’ll fly next to you”).
There are many occasions, however, when the album just doesn’t feel…right.
Coldplay’s first release from this album was “Midnight,” debuting in late February in a move that surprised all but the most in-tune Coldplay fans (some had been tweeting rumors of the song’s release for several days before it happened). The song, characterized by a relaxed vibe and heavy synths, is a new direction for the band, and it’s striking, somehow uniquely Coldplay and simultaneously entirely different from anything they’ve released in the past.
However, in one of the more disappointing aspects of the album, the band abandons this sound for the rest of the tracks. The heavy studio production and synthesizers are still there, but at no point in the album do they reach the tasteful and captivating usage that they do in “Midnight.” Indeed, on multiple occasions, the production becomes far too heavy-handed and detracts from the album’s beauty. Coldplay is typically at their best when they scale back the studio tricks and depend on their skill with their instruments and their songwriting (“Shiver,” “Amsterdam,” “Swallowed in the Sea”). The album’s highlight in this regard is the gorgeous “O,” which features only Martin’s mournful vocals and the accompanying piano. It’s the most memorable and genuine track on Ghost Stories, and it serves as a fantastic closer and a reminder of just how good Coldplay can be when they forego the studio tricks.
It is, of course, worth noting Coldplay is capable of producing and has produced many beautiful tracks with a high level of production (“Talk,” “Cemeteries of London,” “Clocks”). The issue with Ghost Stories is that it offers far too many tracks that are muddled with production that distracts from the music’s raw emotion and skillful instrumentation, and this is perhaps never so evident than with “A Sky Full of Stars,” a song co-produced with EDM legend Tim Bergling, better known as Avicii. The song is the album’s one major misstep; as a whole, Ghost Stories is a mediocre effort, but “A Sky Full of Stars” is the one track on the record that can be described as cringe-worthy.
Ghost Stories is not a terrible album. At times, it offers genuinely emotional, memorable tracks; at others, it provides overproduced songs with weak lyrics. The album isn’t a tragedy, but, much like preceding album Mylo Xyloto, it doesn’t reach anywhere near the band’s previous heights and ends up being an underwhelming work. Coldplay is a band that has repeatedly affirmed that they are capable of great things. They just don’t quite reach them with Ghost Stories.
My advice? If you’re a Coldplay fan, buy it on iTunes and give it a couple of listens. It isn’t worth rushing out to buy on vinyl, but you’ll likely find a couple of songs worthy of your “faves” playlist. If you haven’t listened to Coldplay much, go back to their first two albums, Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head before judging them on Ghost Stories. And if you’re one of those people that hates Coldplay, skip the album entirely; it won’t change your mind.