In the wake of recent Conscious Uncouplings, it's going to be difficult for anyone to separate an album of love songs from a band whose singer is currently mid-break up. So in what may be a vain attempt at professionalism, we're just gonna try to focus on the music here. Ready? Okay, here we go…
Three years since the massively successful Mylo Xyloto, and one of the world's most Marmite-y bands are back without regular contributor Brian Eno, and nothing as populist as a Rihanna duet. Aside from popping up on the soundtrack to The Hunger Games sequel, things have been relatively quiet from Chris Martin and co., and with Ghost Stories, the band have retained their recent modus operandi that they've had in place since Viva La Vida, namely just a handful of songs (9 tracks in total here) spread out over a short running time (42 minutes from start to end).
Unlike that other 'love them or hate them, you've got to respect them' rock band U2, Coldplay never get caught up singing about something as troublesome as politics or something as edgy as sex. Instead, their almost sole muse and interest is the prospect of love, be it the hope for it, the relishing in it, and most presently of all on this album, when it comes to an end.
Perhaps serendipitously, Ghost Stories is to Coldplay what 808 & Heartbreaks was to Kanye West. For the most part, these are songs overflowing with sadness, with peerless electronica inspired production throughout. In place of Eno, they've recruited some of the best producers not just in rock, but in current music, with Avicii ("A Sky Full Of Stars"), Timbaland ("True Love") and Madeon ("Always In My Head") providing their services.
Early singles "Magic" and "Midnight" provide insight into the mostly minimal DNA of the album, and anyone expecting a hands-in-the-air track similar "Paradise" or "Speed Of Sound" will be left disappointed. "Oceans" plays against a singular radar-y beep, the sense of isolation and longing left alone to engulf everything around. "True Love" works off a downbeat Timbaland-provided drum beat, filled with searing lyrics - 'For one last time tell you love me / If you don't then lie to me' – piling up on top of each other to scorch into your brain, while "Another's Arms" rides on several fractured beats and a haunting, wordless female vocal.
"Ink" is built around a hummable spine, one so contagious that Martin himself can't help but 'Do-do-do-do-dooo" along towards the end, and is one of the few upbeat moments to be found. "A Sky Full Of Stars" is perhaps the only chart-friendly song on here, and even though the lyrics seem to be full of positivity and optimism, the delivery by Martin and the song's surroundings on the album drown out most of the hope.
Album opener "Always In My Head" is a magical, hypnotic and altogether quite weird experience, prolonged verse followed by a prolonged chorus, like the opening gambit of a much longer song that never arrives, until the final minute of album closer "O", when the track is revisited with yet another chilling female vocal.
Inescapably, Ghost Stories sounds like a break-up album, but one without rage or hate, instead wallowing in depression. The most sonically experimental and lyrically insightful Coldplay album to date, both the lovers and haters are going to be surprised by this. Just don't expect to hear many of these songs on any future arena tours.
Review by Rory Cashin | FOUR STARS