Music Reviews
Ghost Stories

Coldplay Ghost Stories

(Parlophone) Rating - 7/10
Heartbreak, one of the hardest emotions for humans to go through, is also strangely responsible for some of the most endearing albums of all time. From Frank Sinatra to Adele, with classics by Fleetwood Mac, Blur, Beck and more in between, the feelings that come with the end of love help create for the best records. Coldplay's Ghost Stories is no exception.
In the conscious uncoupling heard around the world, Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow ended their 11-year marriage this March. The impact of that breakup reverberates throughout Coldplay's latest album, especially in the lyrics, which are full of longing that things can work out. The biggest transformation comes in the music though. Following the over-the-top, ridiculous Mylo Xyloto, the band has drawn back, crafting an album of (mostly) subtle, beautiful songs that combine the minimalism of Parachutes with the electronic tricks they learned on later records. 
The tonal shift is apparent from the first seconds of Always In My Head, which starts with distant, ghostly (ha) vocals descending from the heavens, the band and audience to another headspace. From there, Coldplay brings out Magic, a single in the vein of Fix You, though it doesn't burst like that latter song does. Instead, this song is content to stay close to the ground, with its muffled beat, organ keys and touches of guitar. Magic sets the template for the rest of the album, which is aimed to make direct, emotionally-open numbers, without many bells of whistles cluttering up the musical landscape. These songs aren't made for arenas. They belong in parks at sunset, on a suburb rooftop looking towards the city lights in the distance, in bedrooms in the middle of the night. 
Oceans, one of the most gorgeous songs Coldplay has ever recorded, is centered on an acoustic guitar and Martin's voice. A steady electronic beat that serves as a sonar ping, guiding us to safer shores, towards the blue sky and away from the rain Martin sings about. The guitar songs and drum arrangement of True Love creates a clockwork instrumentation for Martin to sell his lyrics, sounded wounded but still hopeful for a positive outcome, even as that becomes more and more unlikely. Just try to ignore the cheesy guitar solo at the end.
Our first taste of Ghost Stories also stands as one of the record's highlights. Midnight is an unexpected piece of ambient music that sounds like an electronic remix of Bon Iver. It is a beautiful moment that is content to just exist without building to a climatic explosion. Instead, it ebbs and flows, ramping up with a breathtaking falsetto by Martin and a outer-space synth tone, only to float back down to Earth. Sadly, this wonderful, delicate experience is nearly upended by A Sky Full Of Stars, the most flow-ruining song on an album in recent memory. Produced by house artist Avicii, the song is full of eardrum-pounding, EDM beats that are guaranteed to break you out of the reverie the previous seven tracks put you in. It is the equivalent of the ending to Christopher Reeve's Superman, where he saves the day by flying around the Earth backwards and reversing time. Surely one of the deluxe tracks would have worked better than this mess?
If you get through that song though, you are rewarded with O, a lovely, almost classical, piano-based song. "They fly on/Ride through/Maybe one day I come fly with you," Martin sings. While the Coldplay singer has loved and lost, he's still got that sense of optimism and hope for the future. It's that quality that first drew people to Coldplay from the moment they heard the swell of Yellow. On Ghost Stories, despite a near derailment, they "fly on," moving in fresh directions while keep the catharsis that gave them their audience in the first place. 
It looks like these ghost stories have a happy ending after all.