Another Coldplay album, another chance for critics and public alike to slam the band everyone loves to hate. The fact that they have generally produced some consistent albums over the years goes amiss, as they become everyone’s favourite piñata and a source of excess hatred. Even in popular culture, shows ranging from ‘Scrubs’ to ‘Californication’ manage to slip in digs at the band who have become a reference and a joke, as much as they are a music group.
‘Ghost Stories’, Coldplay’s 6th full length LP, comes in the wake of Chris Martin’s and Gwyneth Paltrow’s bizarrely titled “conscious uncoupling” which occurred a month or so previously. Much of the album lies in tune to this, centring on the divorce and the various emotions that fly with it. The lyrics tumble around in typical Martin fashion, generally following the forlorn narrative of love lost. In ‘Ink’ he mourns “got a tattoo and the pain’s alright, just wanted a way of keeping you inside,” whilst in ‘Another’s Arms’ he cries “late night watching TV, used to be you here beside me, used to be your arms around me, your body on my body.” It is standard fare and quickly grows tiresome. However towards the end there is a tonal change, akin to Noah & the Whale’s ‘First Days of Spring,’ where Martin begins to look forward, accepting defeat which brings the focus of the album to a more uplifting end. ‘Fly On’ is the most obvious example of this, Martin harking ‘so fly on, ride through, maybe one day I’ll fly next to you, so fly on, ride through.’ Generally though, it stands firmly in line with previous Coldplay works and plays straight into naysayers arms who see Coldplay as nothing more than a depressing, moaning collective.
However there is more to Coldplay than that, and ‘Ghost Stories’ is testament to that. This is not to say it is a great album, because it falls largely short in that respect. It is a solid effort which relies heavily on its influences, and although this provides nothing new or overly exciting, a decent LP has come out as a result. Much like U2 influenced some of Coldplay’s earlier records, and ‘Viva la Vida’ was a British attempt on Arcade Fire without any of the imagination, ‘Ghost Stories’ relies on the current wave of alternative folk. This mostly comes in response to Bon Iver’s latest release, the majestic, Grammy award winning self-titled record, released in 2011. Attempts to replicate a similar sound are clearly evident, most notably in ‘Midnight’ with it’s wavering falsettos and misty soundscapes. There is certainly an invention in Coldplay’s sound here, an attempt to try something new, which marks a refreshing break from their previous album, ‘Mylo Xyloto’. The problem is, whereas in ‘Bon Iver’ this was met with some beautifully ambiguous lyrics, more imagination and experimentation than anything on offer here, a more impressive voice and the fact that it was completely novel, Coldplay, by large, rely on the same formulas that have stuck with them throughout their career. They often, unintentionally, fall back on their tried and tested methods, their new sound a mask over their more familiar musicianship. Ironically however, ‘Sky Full of Stars’, the most upbeat and pulsating track on the record is firmly in line with old, typical Coldplay, yet is also one of the highlights of the album, a feel-good crowd pleaser ready to end live sets for their upcoming tours.
Despite all this ‘Ghost Stories’ is a solid record, which illustrates Coldplay as an evolving band who are at least trying not to be stuck in the same sound. They soak up and replicate their influences, but since the Beatles, so do most bands. It is an album that has the potential to grow the more you listen to it, but in equal measure will be largely forgotten in 6 months time. Still if it was released by a band making their debut the response would be wholly different: it would receive a lot more respect from critics for one, but would also sell far less copies. Such is the music industry.