Coldplay will never be the band that made “Yellow” again. I have to accept that. No matter how much I wish they would return to their Radiohead-lite roots and make essentially “A Rush of Blood To The Head Part 2”, the band has moved on. Perhaps it was the trouble behind the recording of “X&Y”, which itself proved to be musically uninspired. Maybe it was the success of the very un-alt rock “Viva La Vida” off of the album of the same name. Whatever the case, I thought the ultimately lukewarm public response to the concept album “Mylo Xyloto” would have been responded with a return to form in the next album. Not so with “Ghost Stories” but things are different. Noticeably different
Unlike “Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends” and “Mylo Xyloto”, which had a prevalent pop sheen to the electronic style the songs had, “Ghost Stories” has no real pop aspirations whatsoever. Instead, the electronic sound is now being used to create a more atmospheric and ethereal sound, resembling Moby rather than Katy Perry. Gone are the hip hop beats and anthemic choruses and in their place are trip hop melodies and melancholy poetry. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the heartbreaking “True Love” where lead singer Chris Martin sings about the lost of a loved one (almost assuredly about his wife Gwyneth Paltrow, who he is currently separated from after a decade of marriage) but is sang not like he’s heartbroken but as if he’s tired. The tears have already been shed and he’s too exhausted to be sad anymore.
That type of mood permeates the whole album and it does a wonderful job presenting this trance-like aura throughout the whole album. However, not all the songs manage to deliver the same type of strong song writing found in “True Love”. The problem is that the album seems to be more concerned with maintaining the atmospheric sound throughout rather than crafting a good song. There are several songs that feel underdeveloped and like filler as you get to the next major bullet point in the album. For every song that furthers the love and mystical theme of the album like “Magic”, it’s followed with a song like “Ink”, which is musically pedestrian and lyrically clumsy. It should be noted that the singles off the album sound better as part of the album than separately as a result of that commitment to atmosphere, especially “Midnight” which I didn’t like as a single but is a highlight of the album.
This issue with the quality of the songwriting ultimately doesn’t harm the songs enough to make them bad, as the atmosphere of the album saves and / or excels every song on the album. Songs like “Another’s Arms” are pleasant enough to get you to the haunting “Oceans”. Even the album’s short length and track listing (42:37, 9 songs) ultimately gives the songs enough time to make their impact and leave before their welcome has run out. That said, I would recommend the Deluxe Edition of the album as the two extra songs do add to the album’s overall feel and are of equal quality with the standard release. “Ghost Stories” isn’t the best album Coldplay has done but it’s an album the band needed to make and is more interesting than anything Coldplay has done since “A Rush of Blood To The Head”.