Posted on May 19th, 2014 (1:22 pm) by Nick Manai

It seems, in terms of critical approach, Coldplay may never shake the weight of that infamous New York Times piece which labeled them “the most insufferable band of the decade,” making their subsequent releases reactionist for their embarkment from “self-pity” as a unifying tone. That was back in 2005 after the release of one of their most popular LPs, X & Y, when it seemed that they could not get more popular, but would also live forever as the punch line to The 40 Year Old Virgin's gag on male sensitivity. But Chris Martin’s awareness of this duality, which he has publicly admitted, and his desire to rise above it, also inspired the most investigative Coldplay to date. Viva La Vida soared with rhythms that shook rafters Martin had never aimed for before, while 2011’s Mylo Xyloto was, despite the trademark hopefulness, excitingly grandiose in ways fans of Viva had to have appreciated and fans of A Rush of Blood to the Head silently bemoaned.

Of course both Jon Pareles’ “Case against Coldplay,” and their new explorer’s spirit never damaged their image commercially. While they may not have made quite as many sales as reactionists, any studio could still forgive them a flop. Ghost Stories seems doubtful to be such a flop, for although it finds the band dabbling in EDM with an almost “experimental” synth style, Martin grounds these nine songs in his most open-hearted songwriting since X & Y, sure to attract any Coldplay diehard to the unique chance to get back what they had been missing.

Of course what Martin is trying to decipher on Ghost Stories is his break-up with Gwyneth Paltrow. Break-ups can be viewed as creative elixirs, a spring for genius and columnists certainly love drawing the comparisons. Just look at the kind of press Lykke Li's new album I Never Learn is getting in connection to the worst break-up of her life. Ghost Stories had the chance to be Martin’s Blood on the Tracks, a chance for him to leave us something that was more than just honest and actually enigmatic. But what he left us was, well, “insufferable” for the same reasons it was back in 2005.

“And I just got broken / Broken into two / No I don’t want anybody else but you,” sings Martin on the album’s first single, “Magic,” which otherwise offers an impressive drum/bass kick alongside guitar fills that are almost reminiscent of Amnesiac era Radiohead. To reinforce the imagery of ex-lover as glorified angel, the cover to Ghost Stories is the image of two angel’s wings, which, yes, unmistakably take the form of a broken heart. “Wish your arms were around me / My body on your body,” he continues on “Another’s Arms.” There is no perceptible reason to rate someone else’s heartache, but when you publicize certain feelings under the Coldplay name, you are also opening yourself up for inevitable analysis. No one could have made Martin release these songs, but we can ask for a little bit more investigation than he is offering here.

But many will find Ghost Stories unique for its sonic departure from typical Coldplay albums. It certainly does not follow a script that they had laid out at any point in their career. Jon Hopkins, who received an impressive amount of acclaim for his last offer, Immunity, contributes steady EDM beats that certainly are not the high point of his career, but also do not make Coldplay sound like vanilla copyists. “Ink” and “A Sky Full of Stars” both rumble with dark beats that are noticeable downers, but when Martin sings on the latter, “Cause you’re a sky full of stars / I’m gonna give them a heart,” you can almost cut the sappiness with a knife.

“True Love” and “Always in My Head” ripple with celestial chords that are not as immediate as most of Coldplay’s latest offerings. They are made for bedroom speculation, like the Coldplay of old, with dark tones that are admittedly more complex this time around.

So if we take a step back, what can we say about the Coldplay of today? They certainly are trying to rise above any lingering sense that they are the same band who wrote, “melodies as imposing as Romanesque architecture, solid and symmetrical.” At their best they are selling a brand of sincerity unmatched by today’s standards. But Ghost Stories is not them at their best, but hey, who could be after a divorce, even if it was a “conscious uncoupling.”

Track List:

  1. Always in My Mind
  2. Magic
  3. Ink
  4. True Love
  5. Midnight
  6. Another's Arms
  7. Oceans
  8. A Sky Full of Stars
  9. O
Coldplay: Ghost Stories
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

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40 / 100
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