Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ghost Stories | Coldplay


★★★★☆

With hits like "Viva la Vida" and "Clocks" behind them, alternative rock band Coldplay is always expected to go bigger and better on their next releases. Since it would be a challenge to go any louder or get any more produced than their last album, they decided to cut back their sound on their sixth studio album, Ghost Stories. This album trips back to the basics, minus a song or two.

Coldplay's last attempt was Mylo Xyloto, an experimental album with an unpronounceable name. The album was gritty, loud, and heavy in its electronic influences. On Ghost Stories, Coldplay seems to try to pull back to their alternative rock influences while also lightly implementing what they learned on Mylo Xyloto.

Ghost Stories slowly draws open with a relaxed "Always in My Head," which was surprisingly co-written by the band with electronic musician Madeon. Vocals from Chris Martin are drawn to a minimum, so most of the song relies on its easy, ambient instrumental and few light samples of vocals from none other than Apple, Martin's son, who has a nice falsetto but an unfortunate name. 

"Magic," the album's official lead single, carries a simple drumbeat and piano chord instrumental. The vocals could be tweaked in this track, but then again the few vocal imperfections make the song seem more personal - a theme the band seems to be going for with this album. Despite Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow's "conscious uncoupling," the song's lyrics tell the story of an optimistic couple in love: "Call it magic, call it true / I call it magic when I'm with you / And I just got broken, broken into two / Still I call it magic, when I'm next to you." Maybe this song represents that "flying to the Bahamas together and bringing the kids like it's a family vacation" portion of the "conscious uncoupling."

The bittersweet "Ink" gives way to a synthesizer and Martin still proclaiming his love for his ex-wife, but yet ready to let go. The holy falsetto of Chris Martin finally makes a fully-committed appearance in "True Love," in which he sings of his heartbreak: "I've lost you now, you let me go but one last time / Tell me you love me, if you don't then lie to me."

Coldplay really hit the nail on the head with the title of the next track, "Midnight," because the song just makes me envision a lonely drive through the dead of night. The track is perhaps one of the most experimental on the record, with Martin's vocal track being shoved through a vocoder before being layered on the track filled with overlapping synths. 

The dark, twinkling "Another's Arms" finds Martin almost muttering through the repetitive verses and wailing choruses while also leaving room twisted instrumental break during the bridge. Perhaps the slowest song from the album, "Oceans," once again features some mumbling vocals, but also showcases Martin's upper register. Personally, I feel like it's one of the least memorable tracks on the album.

Madeon isn't the only electronic musician to work on Ghost Stories: "Wake Me Up!" hit-maker Avicii got to put his hands into this album in the track "A Sky Full of Stars." While Madeon's presence is relatively hidden in "Always in My Head," Avicii gets to push in a progressive breakdown that holds down the ends of the choruses in "A Sky Full of Stars." I see it as the crowning jewel of Ghost Stories, but that may be because I'm usually drawn towards electronic music. It's a refreshing sound for Coldplay and would probably give the band the moderate radio hit they need if released as a single.

Ghost Stories draws to end with the piano-fueled ballad "O," which is another song that is semi-reliant on Martin's upper register. After all is said and done, the album wraps up at just over forty minutes of new music. Although I don't think Ghost Stories compares to my favorite Coldplay album (Viva la Vida and Death and All of His Friends), it's a solid attempt. Ghost Stories is a nice addition to Coldplay's discography and actually seems to tell the story of the decaying marriage between Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow. By no means is this an Adele-style "we could have had it all but you broke my heart so now I'm going to an entire album about you," but instead it leaves behind bittersweet taste of broken love that was thought to be eternal.

Ghost Stories is out on Tuesday, May 19, under Atlantic Records in the United States. An exclusive deluxe edition can be found at Target department stores.

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