Coldplay are the sort of band who often find themselves unfairly loathed for filling stadiums with their earnest songs. Ghost Stories, their sixth LP, rejects that familiar guitar- and piano-driven formula, instead pairing heartbroken lyrics with an electronic edge. The sound is certainly pretty enough, but the full package is just a bit disappointing.
The first half of Ghost Stories slips by like listening to a remix album. The lyrics are sparse and, in my opinion, unmemorable. While the loss of a relationship is evident from the lyrics (“got a tattoo and the pain’s alright/Just want a way of keeping you inside” in “Ink,” for instance), much of the imagery is generic, with lines repeated so often that it feels as though Chris Martin could have written an extra two verses per song.
“Midnight” is where the album became interesting to me. Here, Coldplay embrace the full potential of their electronic impulses, employing distorted vocals and gently building, beautiful but spooky sounds. “Oceans” opens with acoustic guitar that finally shows off a bit of vulnerability. “A Sky Full of Stars” could have been another big, catchy piano song (think “Clocks”), but when the beat drops and the generic remix synth kicks in, it sounds like a really sad club mix. Fortunately the closing track, “O,” pulls back to a delicate piano sound. The imagery of birds in the air perfectly complements the sensation of loss. When Martin sweeps away the big sounds, the album is truly at its best.
Ghost Stories sounds like a band trying to find a new sound and flailing a bit on the way. I appreciate that Martin and co. are showing range, and the album is perfectly listenable. But Coldplay can do better. This is too much gloss, not enough soul.