It’s been 14 years since “Yellow” broke the surface of the music industry and forced us to put Coldplay on our radar. Since their debut album Parachutes, Coldplay have continued to push the boundaries of sound, melding familiar tones with innovative beats and twists. With Chris Martin’s thoughtful lyricism and an emphasis on piano, Coldplay has earned themselves the title of one of the greatest bands of the millennium.
Five records and two live albums later, Coldplay has returned in a way that is better than what we’ve seen in recent years. While Ghost Stories can’t boast of that melancholic rawness that drenched the foursome’s initial release, it manages to revert to a sort of admirable simplicity despite the electronic elements in its melodies.
The album opens with the heartfelt “Always In My Head,” full of tingling electric guitar and a steady thumping bass. The second single off Ghost Stories “Magic” jumps, percussion heavy, and shows off Martin’s flawless falsetto. “Ink” is reminiscent of late-’90s singer-singwriter tunes despite the electronica elements and is one of the sweeter songs on the album. Pulling in the familiar tack piano we heard on Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, “True Love” soars above its companions in both melody and and lyricism as Martin begs “Just tell me you love me/If you don’t then lie to me.”
“Midnight” is the newest sounding track off the album, melding darker elements of pop and synth not yet heard in Coldplay’s repertoire. The lyrics are minimal on this one and Martin’s voice acts more as an additional instrument than its own entity. “Another’s Arms” is heavy on techno beats and its tepid vocals make it of the more somber tracks in the mix. The acoustic guitar release on “Oceans” has the strongest link to vintage-Coldplay sound, resting somewhere between Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head, with an orchestral-styled outro that brings you back into this decade and leads you straight into “Sky Full of Stars.” Having teamed up with Avicii, the pop-rock stylings may be what makes “Sky Full of Stars” the standout anthem from Ghost Stories. Coldplay-gone-EMD sounds like a strange idea, but pairing their signature tones of acoustic guitar and confident keys keeps Coldplay sounding like Coldplay. Wrapping up the album is the most impactful track in the lot: “O” is a heartfelt ballad carried by a pretty piano run that, if nothing else on Ghost Stories showed already, is an outward letter to Martin’s recently announced ex, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Overall, the tracks are catchy, but not every song feels as eager to be a pop anthem, which may have been why their previous album, 2011’s Mylo Xyloto, felt like a sub-par offering. Martin is at the top of his game with hauntingly sweet vocals, humming and chanting lyrics that feel significantly more personal. While the EMD-infusion sometimes takes away from what could have been a great album, you have to listen to it for what it is and where its writing stems from. It’s an honest album from a band that’s turning back towards simpler melodies while still experimenting with new sounds. Despite its short-comings, Ghost Stories does its job of hooking you and keeping you coming back for another listen.
Ghost Stories is out May 19, but the album is streaming on iTunes! Check it out!