Coldplay are one of, if not the biggest bands in the world, period. Love or hate them for that there is no argument. But imagine you’d never heard of them, you have no idea what a conscious uncoupling is, you don’t know of a song called ‘Yellow’, you have no preconceptions about what is perceived as being cool and uncool.
One of the challenges that comes with a new record by a band the size of Coldplay is to separate the music from the celebrity. But if it were possible to take the latter away from the former, judge the music on ‘Ghost Stories’ in its own right as being released by a new act from the South West that no one had ever heard, it would be gathering 4/5 out of reviews and Mercury nominations everywhere, just like their debut Parachutes did, the spirit of which this new album most naturally evokes.
Like their heroes R.E.M., Coldplay have always tried to make any new record a reaction to the last one, to come in with a different statement, a new message and style, an approach they rarely get given credit for. Once again they’ve succeed in doing this on ‘Ghost Stories’. Very Autumnal in sound (making it a shame it was released in sunny Mid May), there is a sparse opulent beauty littered throughout, an atmosphere which is often admirably achieved through different means, be it on the electronically driven ‘Midnight’, the rhythmic bass of ‘Magic’ or on the acoustic strum of the wonderful ‘Oceans’, which sounds like a natural sister to early Coldplay songs such as ‘Sparks’.
Oddly for a Coldplay record the second half is much stronger than the first, though you can tell a lot of care an attention has gone into the ebb and flow of the album. Arguable album highlight ‘Another Arms’ follows on perfectly from the dense ‘Midnight’, and though as a single the Avicii produced ‘Sky Full Of Stars’ may, taken in isolation, seem a bit out of sync, all classic Coldplay big noise / big chorus, bizarrely it works perfectly sitting at the end of the album, like a ray of hope after a particularly stormy day.
It could be argued that as a break up album it lacks the raw elegance of say Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ and the poetic heartache of Eels’ ‘End Times’, but as a collection of songs ‘Ghost Stories’ is up there with some of the best Coldplay have written.
This will no doubt sell squillions across the world, but equally it would be no surprise if this was also one of the lowest selling albums of their career. You suspect however that, when they all gathered together in bassist Guy Berryman’s living room to start working on this album, they were aware if they went down the road they have with this record then that would be the case. You also get the sneaky impression this was something they were entirely comfortable with, that, following on from the wonderful big shiny colourful pop record that was ‘Mylo Xylto’, ‘Ghost Stories’ was an album they just had to get out of their system, regardless of the consequence’s. It could be argued that, being the biggest band in the world, they’ve earned that luxury, but it was still a gamble, and for that they deserve huge respect.