Coldplay has become a total enigma to me. How is it that a band who released three amazing albums back to back Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head, and X & Y can slip up so badly musically, with their latest slip up Ghost Stories leading me to think whether there is any coming back for Coldplay.
Things started to go wrong for Coldplay on Viva La Vida which was really just Chris Martin buying into his own press that he was the new Bono and having an inner-self pretentious moment thinking he could record an arty album with an arty cover and get away with it. Things got even worse on their next album, the one with a silly name which was an absolute insult to the band’s original fans and was recorded on the back of the success of Viva La Vida to appease those people who thought Viva La Vida was the band’s first album. It was with this album that I was beginning to lose hope of hearing another decent Coldplay album, so it is fair to say that with this latest offering I had lowered my expectations of hearing anything special. And so I was proven right.
Ghost Stories is a somber low key affair, partly inspired by Martin’s troubled relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow which we now know led to a breakup. It is less pop-oriented, with the stadium anthems that dotted the bands last two albums mostly absent, thank Jesus. The album begins with “Always in My Head”, a slow plod of a song which is an uninspiring bore to start the album. The signs are not good straight off the bad, but I keep going. The second song “Magic” is an improvement and has got somewhat of an urban soul vibe to it, Tracy Chapman immediately comes to mind on first listening, while “Ink”, a mid-tempo percussive pop track continues this theme with some nice harmonies thrown in for good measure.
A massive dip occurs in the middle of the album with “True Love” and then an absolute turd of a track “Midnight”. At this point, words fail me, as Coldplay are at their very worst when they try and imitate other distinct styles as they have done with pop, dance, and hip-hop. Here it seems they are trying to copy some obscure electro-pop act in what resembles the pretentiousness I have unfortunately come to associate with Coldplay. “Midnight” is followed by “Another’s Arms”, a pop/R&B track that has a very tinny drum part and a rather ghostly female backing vocalist in what is another labored track that doesn’t really do anything. A song that is worth its salt finally comes in the form of “Oceans”, a haunting track that sounds like a lost Parachutes out-take. This is what Coldplay should sound like and when they are at their best, just Martin singing and strumming an acoustic guitar allowing the listener to just close their eyes and float away think “Spies”, think “Sparks”. “Oceans” is easily the best track on the album and represents the most Parachutes-sounding song Coldplay have recorded since, well, Parachutes. The album concludes with “A Sky Full of Stars” which sees the band return to the stadium anthem sound of their last two albums, and closing track “O”, which is precisely my reaction to this album. Oh why Coldplay? Why?