The title Ghost Stories portrays an image of otherworldliness. Isolation. Spirituality. Maybe Coldplay’s sixth album could be the sound and tale of an afterlife. Sublime opener ‘Always In My Head’ beginning with angelic choirs backs that vision up. But then, a bass-less, ticking electronic beat enters and Chris Martin begins to sing: “I think of you. I haven’t slept… I don’t forget.” Within seconds, however much he wants to escape into the aether, Martin’s feet are begrudgingly stuck to the ground. For every light, mystical breath of synth, they are multiple lyrical sighs.
All celebrity gossip addicts, or in fact anyone who has had access to the internet, far and wide are now well aware of the very little subjective territory that Coldplay are bound to cover, and what (or rather ‘who’) provided a large chunk of inspiration. Readers don’t need any reviews reminding them of it, because Ghost Stories does so for forty-two minutes.
In sound, it is a step back from the electro-anthemic Mylo Xyloto, refusing to leave synth behind, while embracing more somber sounds – akin to that previous album, heard from miles away, with crisp sounding new beats and vocals on top. However, that sparseness can sometimes warrant the image of a miserable mid-teen in their dark bedroom corner, tinkering with music software. While Coldplay manage to stay above this, lyrics such as those of ‘Ink’ (“all I know is that I love you so, so much it hurts”), cause dangerous wobbles on their tightrope.
Later comes album anomaly ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ as unexpected guest producer Avicii appears, and drives Coldplay to seemingly twice the tempo that each of the other eight tracks grind to, and against these tracks feels like a remix, out of place. On the other end of the spectrum of potential conceptual sound is ‘Oceans’, reminiscent of deep heart monitor pulses beneath a guitar, and closing on a ghostly coda of church bells, distant organ and the sound of waves licking the ocean rocks. It is a beautiful union of thick and choking emotional, cold mist.
However, once that mist clears, it is just that – cold. Aside from these oddities, Ghost Stories is irritatingly neither here nor there. It begs for another layer, however depressingly lonely, and how well it achieves it on occasion, such as that in lone vocal and piano (with foot heavily held on the sustain pedal) of mysterious closer ‘O’. When the sound is so sparse, it is neither visceral as a lone acoustic guitar might be, nor as alien and mystically ambient as the electronic sounds could have been.
Tracks don’t necessarily sound incomplete, but are heavily thought out, sonic wireframe prototypes. Chris and friends have definitely been in better moods, and (fittingly) sadly, have been in better form.