Considered a commercially successful alt rock deity, British natives of Coldplay have garnered multiple Grammy nominations and critically acclaimed albums over 16 years with a lush sound, some notable experimentation in later albums, and a long train of radio hits.
Coldplay was one of the first handful of bands I ever “got into.” By that, I mean that I can remember singles from A Rush of Blood to the Head on my local radio stations in middle school, I saw music videos from them on MTV (*cough* when MTV used to play music), and I have followed all their releases up until their most recent venture. I even got to see them live in 2012 on their Mylo Xyloto cycle as a Christmas gift from my mom and sister. Between the light spectacle, the flashing bracelets on ten thousand fans, the elaborate staging, and a killer set list, Coldplay’s live performance is chalked up to an all time favorite of mine so far. After a good musical conversation over Buffalo Wild Wings a few weeks ago, I felt it would be good to review their latest release, Ghost Stories.
As much as I can say that I’ve enjoyed Coldplay for the better part of 10 years, there have been moments where I wasn’t enamored by their phase of sugary art rock with albums like, Mylo Xyloto. There are a couple good singles, but for the most part, I felt like the band had buckled under the pressure of a record label to write a formulaically pop rock album devoid of their old sentiment.
I think Coldplay is famous for writing smooth, moody alt rock smothered in tragic love stories. Though it sounds trite, it has worked for them famously on albums like Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and X&Y. The release of Viva La Vida demonstrated their willingness to explore new musical territory… partially at the whims of critics who lambasted their last release for a lack of diversity. I actually really liked Viva La Vida. It’s a fun album with a good feel. It’s now 2015 and a year has gone by since the release of Ghost Stories, so I’ve had a while to digest it. My first impression of this album is that it feels like a return to form in lineage of earlier albums. There’s an ambiance to Ghost Stories that I haven’t heard since X&Y. In fact, this album takes a turn for the somber. Considering the lyrical content, I think it’s fitting that this album is so dim, but I’ll get into that later.
Midnight was the first song I heard off this record, last spring. The music video was released by the band and quickly gained traction for the band’s sharp musical left turn. This song begins with a single dissonant keyboard loop that builds on itself with heavy 808’s and sub bass. It showcases a verse-verse-verse structure that departs from older material. Chris Martin’s vocals are also processed through a vocoder to give it a trippier vibe. A Sky Full of Stars is the example of a song that looks at older material circa 2001 in the rearview mirror. Notable EDM artist, Avicii, produces this song with an earworm chorus and a dance beat that goes against the grain of this whole record. I think it’s interesting that this song falls at the end of this album, because the course of this album runs slow and deep – it’s the most radio friendly track and it has the liveliest tone to it than any other song on this record. The opening song, Always In My Head starts this album with a dreamy synthesizer that keeps an atmospheric pace with the aid of a drum pad and minimal instrumentation. The album ends with O that has Chris Martin’s signature piano prowess. It actually reminded me of songs like, Amsterdam, off A Rush of Blood to the Head that drips with moody, melancholy instrumentation that tugs at many a heart string.
I would say, aside from A Sky Full of Stars and Magic, there are no other radio singles within sight of this album. It gives me the impression they wrote what they wanted didn’t feel like the band was trying to lay their material down at the feet of a corporate giant looking for radio smashes.
So many of these songs have very lush instrumentation armed with simple subtleties. I think it’s demonstrative of the layers of thought put into this record. The sound is particular, the beat choices are unique, and song structures are varied. The midi strings, keyboards, and electronica give some depth to already ethereal songs, but they surprisingly don’t overpower. I know that there’s some debate amongst those who have commented on this record about overproduction. Though this album does have some of the tightest, sterile sounding material from this band, I think it fits for this album’s style.
If you listen to Coldplay’s discography, you will find that Chris Martin is not the most well spoken guy or lyrically crafty. What he brings is the boy-next-door plead for lost love and puts his heart on the table. This album pontificates on all of those things with 44 minutes bemoaning his divorce with Gwenyth Paltrow. To be honest… it’s hard for me to get into for that reason. I can remember Coldplay’s last two albums having more diverse lyrical content that had inspiration. I think that with a return to form of sorts and considering the tone of this record, maybe it’s fitting that Chris Martin writes a break-up album. With that, I feel as if there’s only so much that someone could say on a break up record that someone else hasn’t already said.
I think that surfaces throughout the lyricism and I think it shows through in the journey Chris Martin takes. From beginning in sorrow to ending the album knowing life can be lived on the other side of it, nothing is new.
This was a different record for Coldplay. Ghost Stories sails in uncharted musical territory that is pulled off in a satisfactory way. Despite one-dimensional lyricism and some uninteresting passages, the experimental nature an intimacy of this record makes it an accessible, easy listen. Huzzah, Coldplay.