Coldplay’s latest album is musical healing for newly divorced frontman Chris Martin

By focusing on the miniature in Ghost Stories, Coldplay has released one of their grandest statements.
Chris Martin, centre, of Coldplay. Jason Kempin / Getty Images for Clear Channel / AFP
Chris Martin, centre, of Coldplay. Jason Kempin / Getty Images for Clear Channel / AFP

Ghost Stories

Coldplay

(Parlophone)

Four stars

Coldplay have always aimed for the heart. While frontman Chris Martin is not the most lyrically gifted singer, he always managed to transform his seemingly hollow refrains into something stirring, courtesy of that sensitive falsetto and the band’s shimmering backdrop.

The English band’s biggest singles (Yellow, Fix You and Every Teardrop is a Waterfall) often had Martin writing for someone, helping them heal from internal wounds. But with his recent divorce from the actress Gwyneth Paltrow, the tables have turned and it is now time for Martin to emotionally soothe himself.

Ironically, in Ghost Stories, Coldplay’s sixth album, the band’s familiar anthems are mostly missing. When it comes to his own heartbreak, Martin perhaps listened to some of the band’s detractors; distress is not taken away by a self-improvement phrase paired to a catchy melody. As the nine-song cycle demonstrates, it’s about getting over things such as sleepless nights and watching the telly alone. By focusing on the miniature, Coldplay perhaps have released one of their grandest statements.

Here is a track-by-track breakdown of their latest album.

Always in My Head

The album’s title is more than a snappy phrase; a chilly, otherworldly feel abounds the release and is demonstrated strongly in the opener. Disembodied operatic vocals gradually seep in like visiting apparitions before the subdued bass and drum kick in. Jonny Buckland’s signature guitar swirls remind us it is a Coldplay song and a haggard Martin appears and sighs: “I think of you / I haven’t slept.”

Magic

Coldplay’s lead singles have always been big triumphant things. In contrast, Magic is low-key and beautifully layered. Martin’s R&B-style vocals initially skip s over a digital drum beat and bass, then tinkling pianos gallop along, then and finally a roaring guitar arrives to take it home.

Ink

The album’s enveloping coldness is slowly put aside with an inviting acoustic riff and handclap-ready rhythms. Ink contains another key divorce-themed lyric, Martin’s delivering the first line “got a tattoo that said ‘“together through life’” with the resignation of a broken promise.

True Love

The title apprehensively suggested this could be a by-the-numbers ballad. Instead it is one of the band’s most beautiful and melancholy offerings. Over fluttering synths and laboured beats, Martin delivers a vocal tour- de- force as he begins with a whimsical melody and ends with some passionate wailing.

Midnight

An ambitious misfire. Martin must have been listening to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (which music fan hasn’t) a lot in the past two years, because those vocoder harmonies are a dead ringer for the American singer. That said, Midnight would have been haunting if the song ended around the three-minute mark. The concluding synth-dance passage is unnecessary.

Another’s Arms

Another winner. Those wordless operatic vocals opening the album returns to visit Martin on the couch late at night, watching the telly and reminiscing on his failed marriage: “Used to be you here beside me / Used to be your arms around me / Your body on my body.” The key element here is that unassuming melody that slowly creeps up on you, a feature in Coldplay’s seminal 2000 debut Parachutes that was increasingly phased out in favour for more bombastic productions.

Oceans

Coldplay continues to look back to former glories. With the exception of the pulsating keyboard riff, the intimate and gently strummed Oceans could have also been lifted from Parachutes. Lyrically, Martin’s is still in the doldrums: “Wait for your call, love / The call never came.”

Sky Full of Stars

All that moping and self-pity was beginning to grate. The album was in need of a big number to bring it home and the boys called on Swedish EDM king Avicii to make this into a monstrous dance track. The song is the album’s biggest chart hope and it deserves to be a hit. The only problem is that it sounds like an Avicii song featuring Coldplay, rather than the other way around.

O

Despite the pain and misery here, Martin has always been an optimist. The plaintive piano ballad is his ode to acceptance and moving on. He uses a flock of birds as an analogy for the people we meet in life: “One minute they arrive / Next you know they’re gone / They fly on.” It is a heart-felt finale to what is one of the most intriguining Coldplay album in years.

sasaeed@thenational.ae

Published: May 19, 2014 04:00 AM

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