Releasing six albums over 15 years shows a longevity in the music Coldplay creates. It’s not stuck in a moment, it’s timeless and it is beautiful. Albums like Viva La Vida spawned some creatively inspiring tracks and in 2011 they released Mylo Xyloto which has to date sold more than eight million copies worldwide. It’s clear that their music thus far has been carefully crafted over a number of years before being released, and that’s why it is all the more frustrating that their sixth album, Ghost Stories is so brutally bland.
At first their was a glimpse of hope. The single ‘Magic’ which is the second track on the album marked a change in sound for Coldplay from their previous record. Chris Martin’s vocals are forefront, and in fact, it’s more ‘Chris Martin feat. some machines’ rather than a Coldplay track. That said, the sparse guitars and drum machine strip back their sound to be something much more minimal and intimate than the hard-hitting anthemic chorus of ‘Paradise’. From here, the album slides through a downward spiral of misery with few redeeming factors.
‘True Love’ is one of the standout achingly sad songs, and not only is it achingly sad, but achingly drab. Beginning with an intro ripped off from Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Song’ the whole track revolves around the one line “Tell me you love me / if you don’t then lie to me”. It’s a line with a poetic quality and drenched in sadness, but to make a track which is relatable and interesting, it needs to offer more than a sad lyric and a soft drum machine.
The muffled ticking and chiming of the Jon Hopkins-produced ‘Midnight’ is a refreshing halfway moment on the record. Delicately distorting the voice of Chris Martin to develop an electronically-tinged sound works well to distinguish it from the sparseness of a Bon Iver track while enhancing it in a way which sets it apart from the monotone nature of many of the other album tracks. Four-minute bore fest ‘Another’s Arms’ fails to build on this fragile moment though, with clumsy rhymes and the monotone “Another’s arms, another’s arms” intersecting every other line, as if Martin had reached the point of boredom with the track after one verse and just padded out the lyrics he already had by repeating the title.
From the sombre sound of distant wedding bells which conclude ‘Oceans’, the listener is launched into ‘A Sky Full of Stars’, which feels a bit like the record company just came along and told them that the whole album was a bit drab and needed another ‘Princess of China’ on it. A Calvin Harris collaboration would have been too obvious so they go for the still-ridiculously-obvious collaboration of sticking Avicii on it with the hope that it cheers up the whole affair and actually sells the record. Coldplay’s greatest talent is creating anthemic sounding tracks, and this one is Ghost Stories’ only saving grace. It’s formulaic and not particularly groundbreaking, but it’s danceable, feel-good and altogether a damn-site more exciting than the rest of the album. While Chris Martin forgets about his heartbreak and just declares his love instead, the production is thumping and it’s all very exciting.
Things come crashing down again when the following track opens with a lacklustre piano, and it feels like the life and soul of the record is once again washed away as Coldplay completely miss the boat in creating anything which resembles the musicality which they have exhibited as a band on previous records. It may be the fastest selling album of 2014 so far, but don’t take that as an indicator of quality. The bulk of the album generally merges together into an indistinctive mess of unimaginative melancholy and self-pity. Chris Martin himself has admitted that this album was a cathartic response to heartbreak and anxiety in his personal life, but I can’t help but feel that it’s something he should have kept to himself.
Ghost Stories is out now through Parlophone.