You can’t expect to get bigger and bigger and still avoid the fall. Decline is inevitable after all. Just ask Icarus. Or COLDPLAY. The world’s biggest band might have been on a constant high ever since they released their debut album Parachutes 14 years ago. But the rise to global stardom came with a few ugly accompaniments. With their last album Mylo Xyloto it felt like the British superstars lost track. The mediocre and predictable songs covered the lack of ideas behind a shallow layer of synthesizers and pomp. The band did the same with their colourful but soulless confetti stadium shows and costumes. It wasn’t that surprising but it felt like the feeling was finally gone, leaving the band drowning in irrelevance.
Although everything looked perfect from the shiny outside things were different behind the facade. Not so much for the band but as the ten-year-long marriage between Chris Martin and actress Gwyneth Palthrow broke it felt like the charismatic songwriter needed a new focus. Who cares about a mutual agreement in public – a divorce is never easy. Ghost Stories is both – Martin facing his demons and COLDPLAY reconnecting with the feeling of their earlier work. Before the stadiums, LED-screens and confetti. It’s not back to basics here. And it’s clearly not a return to Parachutes. COLDPLAY move forward once again – but in a way more satisfying way.
‘I think of you / I haven’t slept / I think I do / But I don’t forget’ are the first words sung by Martin as the opener Always In My Head unfolds its slow groove over wide and gentle synthesizer pads. It feels like the aftermath of the party. The colours of Mylo Xyloto are washed away by the rain. We find COLDPLAY in a more mellow state. The single Magic continues this feeling although already showing the band’s infamous anthem potential towards the end. One thing gets clearer and clearer with every song. Ghost Stories is the band’s most electronic album so far. But they use the synthetic beats and synthesizers in a very decent way. They are equal to the traditional instrumentation in order to create the floating and dreamy atmosphere of this pop album.
‘Tell me you love me / if you don’t, then lie to me’ – although True Love drowns in a sea of strings it feels like it is a bittersweet love song. Chris Martin is dealing with the cracks of his emotional love life again before drifting right into darkness. The powerful Midnight is a secret highlight of the album. With the help of long-time friend JON HOPKINS COLDPLAY tumble through a cold and synthetic forest – ‘In the darkness before the dawn.’ A solid way of combining the band’s past ability to create emotions with some new musical adventures.
In one of the rare interviews for the release of Ghost Stories Martin told about the arc of the album and its concept. It starts in a state of desperation and slowly moves towards a more hopeful place. On this journey the protagonist gets lost in memories, nostalgia and loneliness. ‘You’ve got to find yourself alone in this world’ sings Martin in Oceans. The reduced and almost acoustic track is the clearest nod to the band’s roots in years. It’s kind of ironic that the floating synthetic outro of this Parachutes-like song leads us right into A Sky Full of Stars. The collaboration with Swedish EDM shooting star AVICII clearly resembles the ‘Confetti COLDPLAY‘. But although completely contrary to the rest of the record it totally fits in its concept. It’s the return to hope in form of a life-embracing dance anthem. Everything is a cycle.
‘A flock of birds hovering above / That’s how you think of love’ sums Martin up in the tender closing track O. ‘Maybe one day I’ll fly with you’ remains his hope. It’s the feeling of letting go; moving on, even if it still hurts. No AVICII dance tune can erase what happened. We don’t even want to know what happened in the singer’s recent past. It doesn’t actually matter – these topics are universal. You don’t need to marry an actress or become a global superstar to understand them. The past is the past; you can only learn from it and make the best out of the future. This can also be said about COLDPLAY‘s music. Ghost Stories is easily the band’s best album since … well, we might even say A Rush of Blood to the Head. Let’s enjoy this moment of clarity and take a deep breath before the confetti returns.
By stripping down the grandiloquence of previous albums COLDPLAY return to form on ‘Ghost Stories’, delivering their most truthful and coherent record in years.
NBHAP Rating: 4/5