you want to grab an oversized tub of Ben
& Jerry’s, hide under a duvet and cry.
I’m yanking your chain of course, and yet while the breakup of Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow may not be as blatantly emblazoned across the tracklist of their latest album as this article previously suggested – you have to admit, it would have given the record a unique flavour – ‘Ghost Stories’ does indeed have all the signs of an undeniable break up album.
The record is slow and features tracks packed with sluggish backings that bring a solemn tone to the overall piece. Normally we see knockout instrumental work carry the questionable writing skills of Chris Martin, but the ‘conscious uncoupling’ of the artist from Paltrow seems to have added a sincerity to his scribblings that wasn’t there before. The result is that on this album, the heavyweight instrumental work takes second place to the artist’s uptake in song-writing form.
‘I think of you/I haven’t slept’ admits opening song ‘Always In My Head’, as if the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway already. ‘All I know is that I’m lost whenever you go’, is found in the chorus of ‘Ink’ meanwhile, and ‘True Love’ features a line that begs us: ‘Tell me that you love me/if you don’t then lie’. These are just a few select examples from an album packed with reflective, sombre lyrics.
Subdued electronic backings, calm, melodic piano and light guitar riffs that don’t overstep their mark provide the soundtrack for these vocals, with ‘A Sky Full of Stars’ proving the only exception – the song launches triumphant electronic and piano work early on that grows to be welcomed by an electric guitar blast more typical of Coldplay’s work.
While the subject matter of the album may be a bit downbeat though, the end result is some of the most critically commendable stuff the band has come out with. With the songs now holding a bit more meaning, the accompanying instrumental work is tasked with framing and escorting the vocals rather than guiding the song, and these backings ensure the work is made into easy listening as appose to turning into material only suited to the broken hearted.
‘Magic’ floats up and down nicely in tempo without ever taking off above the restrained nature of the song, ‘Always In My Head’ provides soaring but suppressed guitar work that elevates the vocals further, and a catchy, rhythmic beat circles in ‘Ink’ before rising through synthetic work and quickly filtering back down to greet the next verse.
‘Oceans’, meanwhile, sticks to a bare bones approach. Melancholy acoustic guitar work and a repeated synthetic bang providing all the requirements needed to let Martin whine out on top successfully, and while several songs (‘True Love’, ‘Midnight’) do seem to get caught up in a repetitive strain of thinking, the bulk of the tracklist impresses. Finishing number ‘O’, for example, sees the record out on a philosophical note accompanied by piano which feels significantly more meaningful than much of the band’s past work.
Verdict: A brave move from Chris Martin and Coldplay, who divert from the pop template of their charting success to tackle a more sombre subject matter. The result is commendable work which carries weight in meaning and impresses in sections when avoiding repetition.