Long awaited. Much anticipated. Well worth the wait.
Few bands have built a stronger career on mastering the art of understatement than Coldplay. It’s an irony of the modern rock era that a band could sell out stadiums across the world with the less-is-more approach, when most of their peers draw crowds by doing exactly the opposite: louder, harder, faster. But don’t mistake understatement for sleepiness: there is pure energy in their music and their performances. It’s just harnessed more as emotion than sheer volume.
There are those who decried Coldplay’s last effort Mylo Xyloto as a bit of a sellout album for its heavy pop sensibilities, flying in the face of its reputation as a softer alt-rock band. (Come on guys—Rihanna? Really?) But in many ways, Ghost Stories, the band’s sixth studio effort out this week, should lay at least some of these complaints to rest.
I say “some” because this album represents both a return to form and a departure for the band, all at once. From one perspective, they’ve returned to musical understatement, with emotion simmering just under the surface and coming up to a boil every so often (“Magic,” “A Sky Full Of Stars”). It’s also a departure in that this album explores the electronica/EDM side of the spectrum, with sparse drum loops and spacey synths dominating the soundscape in all but a couple of tracks. This second aspect of the album could fuel more criticism from some who are looking for the signs of sell-out, but I truly don’t see it that way. A careful listen reveals that Coldplay aren’t jumping on any bandwagons with this trek into the electronic field—they are exploring it as a means of expression. In other words, they’re not trying to bodies in the clubs with this music—they’re revealing heartfelt emotion. And it absolutely works, in my opinion.
Indeed, the themes of longing, regret and heartbreak throughout this record make sense in the context of frontman Chris Martin’s recent revelation that he’s separating from actress Gwyneth Paltrow, his wife of ten years. While the first the public heard of it was a couple of months ago, a “conscious uncoupling” doesn’t happen overnight, and true to the artist he is, Martin has poured that emotion into his songs. You can hear it in vulnerable lyrics like “Tell me you love me / If you don’t then lie” (“True Love”) and “I think of you / I haven’t slept” (“Always In My Head). You hear it in Martin’s broken, haunted voice on “Oceans” and even a wisp of regret in the celebratory “A Sky Full Of Stars.” (It’s in the nature of his voice, anyhow—this guy can sing a droned note, and it will sound melancholy.)
Overall, with Ghost Stories, Coldplay have made their most accessible and focused album in years, and while the musical style is a departure from their normal wheelhouse, the humanness and artistry within it serve as a sharp reminder of why we first fell in love with this band. I predict this record will stand in memory as one of the best loved of their career.
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