'Ghost Stories' an ideal, experimental break-up record

Atlantic Records

By Adam Theisen, Summer Senior Arts Editor
Published May 21, 2014

“Every love story is a ghost story” –David Foster Wallace

Ghost Stories


No matter how in love two people are, eventually, they must part, and somebody’s heart will break. When our love stories end, we’re simply left with the ghosts of our significant others manifested in memories of times past. That being said, love is the most uniquely special thing that we as humans have, and if we’re going to experience it in all its beauty, we have to embrace the natural unavoidability of its loss. Chris Martin struggles to accept this on Coldplay’s gorgeous, meditative sixth album, Ghost Stories.

Notice that it’s Chris Martin accepting this, not Coldplay. While the group’s lead singer has always enjoyed the lion’s share of attention, this record in particular puts Martin in the spotlight and relegates the other three band members to the shadows. Fresh off his split with Gwyneth Paltrow — a breakup that will undoubtedly be on the minds of all fans while they listen to Ghost Stories — he spends the entire album wandering the sonic landscape, ruminating on his broken heart with his soft, lovely and entirely un-masculine voice. The metaphors he uses can be a little goofy (“you’re a sky full of stars”), and he’s filled with the kind of heart-on-sleeve earnestness that’s very easy to make fun of, but he’s still delightful, floating precariously on the ethereal music, never forcing anything, just letting his feelings exist.

Most of the music on Ghost Stories doesn’t drive itself in any artificial direction, and the best songs eschew the typical rock song formula entirely. The one-two opening duo of “Always in My Head” and “Magic” perfectly exemplify this. The music evokes a distinctly outdoors feel. Like a starry night, it’s glittery, quiet, pretty and airy, with the rhythm section in particular doing an expert job of capturing the intended mood. At this moment, Coldplay is at a great spot in its career where it’s confident and polished but still hasn’t lost its creative spark.

The only disappointing moments are the songs that work too much within traditional structures, that call attention to themselves as being songs at the expense of the album’s mood. “Another’s Arms,” for example, is simply an average rock song, and it’s a good thing that Ghost Stories is only 40 minutes long, as too many of these tracks would bog down the experimentation. 40 minutes is the perfect amount of time to keep the listener’s interest.

For a band known for having such a great live act, it’s tough to imagine how these songs will work in a concert setting. “Midnight,” among a few others, is the type of song that makes you extremely conscious of yourself and of how much your breath has been taken away. In its best moments on Ghost Stories, Coldplay doesn’t feel like a band, but rather a very special, fragile, contemplative mood. The one exception, though, is “A Sky Full of Stars.” It’s the Coldplay-est of Coldplay songs, and from the very first piano chords, you know for certain that the soaring chorus is due in less than two minutes. It’s the kind of pop radio hit that the band is practically obligated to deliver on every record, but the fun and familiar sound, while out of place, will still be welcomed by fans, and the Avicii-assisted EDM backbeat opens it up to exciting remix potential.

All Coldplay albums are ambitious, but Ghost Stories is ambitious in the complete opposite way that Coldplay albums usually are. Instead of setting its sights for outer space and trying to fly there, the band has looked inward and created one of the most ideal breakup records in recent memory. Sure, it’s still the same old sensitive Coldplay whose unique traits are easy for some people to laugh at, and a few of the more traditionally-structured songs are a disappointing waste, but Coldplay is an extremely successful band that is still working hard and not getting stuck in creative ruts.

Coldplay is the exact opposite of edgy, and very little about the album forcefully grabs your attention, but that’s what makes it special. Ghost Stories is an album for sitting in your backyard in a sweatshirt after sunset, whether you’re entirely engrossed in your own thoughts, or entirely captivated by another person. The bass is your heartbeat, the guitar is the windchimes behind you being blown by a light breeze. The strings are butterflies flying high above you. This is love, and this is loss. This is life, and this is music.