“We’ve been away for a long time,” announced an awkward but lovable Chris Martin at this year’s iTunes festival. For most, it was merely a reference to the three-year gap since their last release, the commercial phenomenon Mylo Xyloto. For Coldplay fans of old, however, it was a confession of their radical change in direction the recent album took compared to the likes of A Rush of Blood to the Head and Parachutes. With the unexpected release of ‘Midnight’, and a certain modesty to Ghost Stories‘ promotion, does this new album bring back the band that fans have been grieving for on Coldplay’s old YouTube videos?
Before you even play the record, take a minute to appreciate its cover art. Coldplay fans have come to expect that every one of their studio albums, in some way, tells its own story. Ghost Stories showcases a pair of angels’ wings, designed and created by Mila Fustova, which are embedded with a series of medieval-style drawings. It’s quite remarkable, even more so when you listen to the album afterwards and begin to hear the picture’s references throughout.
‘Always In My Head’ begins the album with an atmospheric drone, reminiscent of the ‘Life in Technicolour’ sample that opens and closes Viva La Vida. It’s haunting, portraying the very idea of a ghost story. When the song itself begins, it brings back memories of ‘A Message’ and ‘Green Eyes’ thanks to a love-ballad optimism and characteristics of classic Coldplay hits. Martin’s soft tones lead the song, with Buckland’s underlying guitar carrying it through – it feels wonderfully familiar.
After that, Ghost Stories uses the cover’s concept to tell a story about ‘opening yourself up to love’. The album feels hopeful with the former song and ‘Magic’, what with its simple hook-line bass rhythm and uplifting lyrics: ‘Still I call it magic, when I’m next to you’. From there, it takes you into a place where you can literally feel the optimism draining out, characterized by the icy feel of ‘Midnight’, and the desperation in tracks like ‘True Love’ and ‘Oceans’.
Ghost Stories, as you continue to listen, feels relatable to, well, anyone who has loved and lost. No longer are they trying to tackle grand, philosophical issues which constituted X & Y. This time, Coldplay are using their experiences as a band, as well as the personal struggles of Martin’s breakup with wife Gwyneth Paltrow, to make an honest record. That does create a difficulty in that it makes the album feel somewhat simple and transparent, even if it is honest.
If Mylo Xyloto was the monkey with a pair of cymbals, then Ghost Stories is that monkey sitting down and coming to terms with his realities – being loud doesn’t constitute good music. All of this is thanks to the album’s various music producers, including Paul Epworth, the man behind the magic of Adele’s ‘Skyfall’. Ghost Stories does have that big-production feel, evident in Avicci-produced, fist-in-the-air tune ‘A Sky Full of Stars’, the last shot at love of the album. Yet, it uses it sparingly, acting as an amp-up to potentially weaker songs such as ‘Oceans’ and ‘True Love’.
When you look at some of the songs in greater detail, the lyrics do tread some familiar ground and can be lazy at times, with lyrics such as ‘Late night watching TV, used to be you here beside me’ in ‘Another’s Arms’. Still, that doesn’t take away what this album is trying to do: create a sense of honesty and relatability while acting as a love letter to the fans of old.
When the final note to their swansong, ‘O’, begins to finish and the ‘Always In My Head’ sample makes its closing appearance, it gives you a sense of confidence that the band have finished telling a story that they wanted to tell, just as they did with Viva La Vida. With their series of ‘intimate shows’ coming up, as well as their Ghost Stories TV special, fans can rejoice knowing that the band they fell in love with in the early 2000’s will still reel them in, even with the album’s simplicity.