Conscious uncoupling: Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin and then-wife Gwyneth Paltrow ignited that term when it was used to describe their separation earlier this year, but it can be applied just as much to Martin’s band. The playful pop sounds of their last two albums are nothing more than a breakup to write about, replaced with the more atmospheric and contemplative themes of Ghost Stories, released on Parlophone/Atlantic this Monday. Finding itself somewhere between a breakup album and an effort with a hint of opportunity, this nine song collection (twelve on the Target deluxe) goes for the personal, but personally, isn’t even close to what I was looking for out of their latest material. This isn’t to say what the group has written and recorded is subpar, but enduring classics they are not.
The album begins with the soothing “Always In My Head”, which begins with a series of chants before transitioning into a moody rocker. It feels incomplete at just one verse and one chorus, Martin repeatedly singing to his love, “you’re always in my head.” Also sparsely written is the first radio single from the project, “Magic”, a beautifully simple composition that gently eases along. This tale ends on a hopeful note: “If you were to ask me/After all that we’ve been through/Still believe in magic/Oh, yes I do… of course I do.” Picking up the pace from there is third cut “Ink”, one of the stronger tracks of the set, which picks up the pace from the solidly slow beginning. The optimism of a romance is likened to “carving your name with a pocket knife”, although Martin indicates that his relationship now “feels like there’s something broken inside.”
Fourth track “True Love” is also a welcome treat, which comes off as a sequel to the quartet’s 2013 soundtrack single from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, “Atlas”. Though the request to “tell me you love me” and “If you don’t, then lie to me” isn’t particularly convincing, the song as a whole is pleasant. The pre-release track “Midnight” follows in the fifth slot in a minimalist fashion, reminiscent of the mid-to-late 1970’s Peter Gabriel catalog. Martin subjects us to passionate longing once more in “Another’s Arms”, in which he wishes “that you were here beside me” as he watches the tube in the wee hours of the morning. I hope he isn’t tuned into reruns of Divorce Court (or the umpteenth airing of Country Strong.)
The final three tracks in the set, if not the best of the bunch, certainly provide an interesting experience for the listener. It advances with the acoustic-based “Oceans”: think of it as the “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face” of Ghost Stories. Perhaps the most intriguing part about is the coda which leads into a full outro, a chaotic assembly of crashing waves, bells ringing in reverse and more. It transitions nicely into the second radio single and obvious hit of the bunch, “A Sky Full Of Stars”, co-produced by Avicii. Even more dance-oriented than 2011’s “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall”, the song is uplifting and the only real hyper positive moment on here. That, of course, means we end on a downer: “O”, the piano-heavy ballad that delicately unwinds to the calls of Martin to “fly on” as “a flock of birds”. It has single potential down the line.
If the days of Parachutes and A Rush Of Blood To The Head are more up your alley, then the finely crafted tunes of Ghost Stories, subtleties and all, will probably appeal more to you than the casual fan of “Viva La Vida”. It’s certainly not lacking in terms of inspiration, but given the jump from the pop-driven Mylo Xyloto to this, the experience isn’t wholly satisfying. Then again, one could argue that the concept of adoration isn’t either. Love on the rocks ain’t no big surprise, and neither are the sales that come along with the hype of an act like Coldplay. Though this album’s start will likely be slower and not as impressive in the long run, there are a few songs on here that could drive numbers up.
There’s unfinished business to be had, but I’m sure it’ll be years before anything new is ready for our consumption. Until then, get a good bookmark. You may find yourself coming back to these Stories when you least expect it.