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Coldplay, “Ghost Stories” Album Review: More Intimate, Painful, and Personal

Ghost Stories. The ‘dark’ Coldplay album. Ooh-er.

Coldplay is not a dark band – the alternative rockers have flitted from genre to genre with their LPs with most recent entries Viva La Vida and Mylo Xyloto dabbling in the epic rock and full-on Technicolour pop sounds respectively. However, new album Ghost Stories finds them at a new and infinitely moodier, more reflective place than they were two years ago. In short – there are no Rihanna duets or joyously saccharine songs to be found here.

Ghost Stories was never going to be just a darker Coldplay album – lead singer and frontman Chris Martin and his wife Gwyneth Paltrow’s amicable split in the past few months has coloured the album in darker, more retroactively sadder hues. The album’s themes and motifs are a sad conclusion and reaction to the end of a long marriage, and while Coldplay going full dark was never going to happen, due to their natural penchant for hopefulness, the album is full of regret, pain and the process of dealing with something terrible.

The general mood of Ghost Stories is a much moodier and darker affair than Coldplay’s sunnier efforts – the haunting ‘True Love’ is a guitar-fueled romantic ode steeped in heartbreak melancholia, while the equally maudlin ‘Another’s Arms’ is a subdued and sad affair, and ‘Oceans’ is notable for its dark and downbeat ambient-rock sound. Fortunately this is a pleasant shift in tone for the perennially perky band, rather than a doom-and-gloom outing – album standout ‘Midnight’ is a particularly beautiful and cinematic song, full of electronic production that envelopes the listener in the apt late night vibe to the song, and opening track ‘Always In My Head’ is dramatic and sweepingly gorgeous way to begin the album.

Elsewhere, Coldplay dabble into the sonic palatte further – ‘A Sky Full Of Stars’ is one of their most transcendent offerings, pairing heartfelt platitudes about love and the celestial pantheon with production from EDM star Avicii to aurally dazzling effect, improving upon a strange and bright club banger for the alt-rockers in an album notable for its melancholia. Album closer ‘O’ is a chilled-out, ambient-infused way to end the collection, full of subdued, realistic hope about coming out of the end of a relationship.

If some of the songs on Ghost Stories seem filler, then that’s not all bad news, for even the less sonically exciting songs still have solid production behind them – the downbeat ‘Magic’ about being all caught up in love won’t set your speakers alight, and the fluffy electronica piece ‘Ink’, however charming, is set to become the trailer and film soundtrack to a million romantic comedies with its lyrics about love.

Coldplay’s strengths lie in crafting catchy songs that immerse themselves in whatever genre the boys find themselves indulging in, and Ghost Stories is lacking in that department with only EDM-pop offering ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ the only truly radio-friendly cut on the album. However, Ghost Stories manages something stronger and more impressive – following on proper pop concept album Mylo Xyloto was going to be a hard task, and they’ve done so without trying to create a carbon copy. They’ve opted for a more intimate, painful, and personal album that contains hidden depths in its short running time and amount of well-crafted tracks, and for that, they deserve a round of applause.