Friday, April 3, 2015

Coldplay 6: Ghost Stories

Lots of great albums have been recorded in the wake of a writer’s divorce, but this is the first time an album has appeared following a conscious uncoupling. Whether or not they meant it that way, every song on Ghost Stories reads like a guy who’s been dumped. Even if you don’t give a fig about Chris Martin or Gwyneth Paltrow, after a few listens, you begin to understand why she left. A dreamy sound permeates, with a reliance on programmed as opposed to acoustic drums. If we’re going to keep the U2 comparison going, think Zooropa crossed with the Passengers side project, but without the energy; outside of U2, we hear echoes of Tears For Fears and even the voice of Shawn Smith of Brad and Satchel.
Beginning with voices from an astral choir, “Always In My Head” is a melancholy midtempo number, and we only mention that now because most of the tracks will follow that template. It ends abruptly, and switches to the bong-rattling bass in “Magic”, which finally introduces some guitar but mostly sounds like “Numb”. “Ink” pushes the tattoo metaphor way too far in another robotic-sounding track. Despite having an actual melody and chord changes, “True Love” moves along like any other lovelorn ballad with a lyrical steal from “Hallelujah”, until the intentionally dissonant guitar solo throws it off. “Midnight” puts the vocal through a vocoder, sounding more like an Eno effect than a song.
“Another’s Arms” revives the guitar as riff, with a sample of an operatic voice (another idea stolen from U2). On “Oceans” a constant beep likely is used for a sonar effect, but instead suggests a phone not being picked up. Maybe that was the point? With an acoustic guitar it does appear a throwback to the first album, but buries the idea with a lengthy atmospheric collage including canned church bells over the end. That sets up “A Sky Full Of Stars”, which sounds like every cliché dance-floor anthem of the last 20 years. (Thankfully, Rihanna’s not on this album.) Halfway through the beats and effects drop out to heighten the acoustic, and then it flanges back to remix territory. Those not longing for a night at the Roxbury will at least welcome such an upbeat detour. “O” would stand out as a highlight if it weren’t the same tempo and feel of everything else here. It’s admittedly satisfying in its gradual build from a simple piano tinkle (apparently an unlisted title called “Fly On”) to a bigger sound, and easing up just before it threatens to explode. And as has become custom with these guys, there’s a pause and a reprise of the sound heard at the top of Track 1.
Rather than pushing the limits of compact disc technology, Ghost Stories goes by fairly quickly, though Target did get dibs on the “bonus tracks”, two of which are actually uptempo, along with a “Reprise” of “O”. With Chris Martin as their frontman, the other guys are not only anonymous but generic, adding very little to what he’s spewing. Surely one of them would have pointed out that it all sounds alike. Given the rapturous response heard on Ghost Stories Live 2014 released at year’s end, their fans don’t care. They got to hear the album played exactly as released, with no spontaneity or surprises.

Coldplay Ghost Stories (2014)—2

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