Ghost Stories Album Review
Released May 19, 2014
Genre: Alternative Rock, Post-Britpop, Ambient, Downtempo, Electronica, Dream Pop
Selling out stadiums in every corner of the world, Coldplay has become one of the most recognizable bands of all time. Releasing their debut full-length studio album Parachutes in 2000 with Parlophone Records, it has been almost fifteen years since the British pop-rock superstars made the scene, much due to their chart-topping, award-winning single, “Yellow”. Still remaining as one of their most popular singles, the opening riffs has reached levels of ubiquitous prominence. Onto their sixth full-length album of their astonishingly-impressive discography, Coldplay decided to go a different direction, basing their introspective concept album, Ghost Stories, around the distraught relationship between lead-singer Chris Martin and his recently divorced wife, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Ghost Stories derives its name from Chris Martin’s haunting memories of himself, stating in an interview about the new album, “How do you let the things that happen to you in the past—your ghosts—how do you let them affect your present and your future?” Although the inspiration for the album is deeply personal, the band was fully supportive in the production of it. After recording, the band used Chris Martin’s original, hand-written lyrics sheets to greatly increase the publicity of the album by hiding each in nine different libraries around the world. Word spread like wildfire across social networking website Twitter with the tag #LyricsHunt, where they posted clues for the scavenger hunt, the sheets hidden in envelopes in ghost story books. The race was truly on to find the Golden Ticket, which was included in only one of the envelopes, and gave the discoverer two tickets to see Coldplay perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London in July—quite the incentive.
Ghost Stories is unlike any other album of theirs, approached with a predominantly-minimalist composition that features production assistance from Electronica auteur Jon Hopkins, progressive house producer Avicii, and electro house producer Madeon. The album also features detailed, astronomical cover art by Czech etching artist Mila Fürtsová, who produced multiple surreal scenes that are 100 x 100 cm large, allowing her to reach a profound fathom of detail. Compositionally and promotionally, Ghost Stories is one of Coldplay’s most thorough albums to date.
Opening with “Always In My Head”, Coldplay greets us with a softly-floating, orchestral hum, which is then soon shrouded in a fluid guitar sound, similar to Tycho‘s ethereal atmosphere, along with the clean, metronomic beat of the drums, before it all recedes to let Chris Martin softly plea, “I think of you,” referring most likely to Gwenyth Paltrow. The sounds introduced in this first track set the stage for the rest of the album, which features minimalist drum rhythms, gentle choruses, and light, atmospheric guitar melodies. Following this is “Magic”, a song that Coldplay released as a single back in March to build up hype over the album. It picks up the pace a bit from the last track, and the piano instrumentation directly accompanies his vocals while the rest of the band continues to play. It is very similar to “Up In Flames” from their last album, Mylo Xyloto (2011), albeit a more atmospheric sound.
On “Ink”, the most upbeat song on the album, drawing upon a natural drum sound like that of “Lost!” from Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (2008). Within seconds you will be tapping your foot or bopping your head to this rhythmic lullaby. Then comes the dream-like “True Love”, which has simple beat similar to their electropop single “Princess Of China” from Mylo Xyloto. Following this is the single “Midnight”, a hypnotic ambient piece co-produced, and influenced, by Jon Hopkins. Later in the album is the single “A Sky Full of Stars”, produced in part by Avicii and Madeon, is a rocket fueled EDM single that just begs to be played on the radio, rarely straying from the cliched drum presets and house synth motifs. Contrary from a normal Coldplay song, and deterring from the minimal tone of the album, the song latches onto the blueprint of today’s EDM, culminating in Coldplay’s disheartening deliverance from their usual passionate lyricism. The Deluxe Edition of Ghost Stories includes three more songs: “All Your Friends”, “Ghost Story”, and “O (Reprise)”. “Ghost Story” draws upon similar sounds to that of their 2008 releases Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends and Prospekt’s March [EP].
Roots of Coldplay’s older music is evident in their latest album, but they have a tendency to bring new sounds to the table each time, this time producing a much different atmosphere than any of their past works—an atmosphere that may cause some Coldplay listeners to become disinterested. Ghost Stories finds the band at their most morose and downtrodden state of mind yet. Coldplay have always been the band to be upfront and personal with their feelings, but with tracks like “Midnight” and “Magic”, their inner pathos comes to life in the most explicit, and most bleak way. The last tear Martin shed (“Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall”, Mylo Xyloto) proved to be one the band’s most uplifting, but with “Midnight”, their calmest, we find Martin pleading “When I’m rolling with the thunder/But bleed from thorns/Leave a light, a light on”, never fully overcoming his pain but succumbing to it, like a helpless doe. Ghost Stories depends more on the vocals of Chris Martin and greatly reduces the use of the rest of the instruments. Don’t expect any future releases to be like this, however, because the weak, melancholy lyrics, insignificant participation of the band members, tentative acceptance by the music scene, and fact that it is a concept album should lead to a more traditional production and release in the future. Let’s hope that Martin is back on his feet next time around.
FAV TRACKS: Always In My Head, Ink, True Love, Midnight
LEAST FAV TRACKS: Oceans, A Sky Full of Stars, All Your Friends, Ghost Story