Coldplay’s “Ghost Stories” tells a familiar story with an unfamiliar tune

Courtesy of Parlophone Records
Courtesy of Parlophone Records

Ever since their release of “Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends,” Coldplay has steered away from their more traditional alternative and indie rock sounds of acoustic guitars, piano riffs and anthemic choruses. Those sounds have been replaced with more experimental electronic melodies that sometimes work, and other times fall flat. Some love this change, while others complain that the band has sold out in an attempt to “appeal to the masses” instead of sticking to their traditional roots. “Ghost Stories” will surely continue to drive that debate further as the band’s new fascination with pop-oriented music continues.

“Ghost Stories” is a concept album that deals with the themes of loss and heartbreak, presumably influenced by lead singer Chris Martin’s recent “conscious uncoupling” with wife Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s an interesting album in that it tells its heartbreaking stories through some of the most unconventional styles of music: EDM, ambient and pop. Weird, but you know what? It ends up working — at least, most of the time.

“Midnight,” for instance, is arguably the album’s most distinct-sounding track. The vocals of the song were recorded using a vocoder, giving Martin’s voice an echoing sound. Couple that with the synth-heavy backgrounds and you get a moody, almost eerie tune that perfectly captures the album’s themes of loss and despair. And somewhere in that ambient tone lies the band’s signature poetic songwriting as Martin croons, “In the darkness before the dawn / In the swirling of this storm / When I’m rolling with the punches / And hope is gone.”

The album also features more pop-sounding tracks like the Avicii-produced “Sky Full of Stars,” which captures the band’s experimentation with the EDM genre. And it’s not an unwelcomed change. It actually works. The song manages to fuse the danceable beats of the genre with Coldplay’s signature driving keyboard riff that fans know, love and long for. The end result is an upbeat tune that mixes the best of Coldplay with the best of EDM.

And for those die-hard fans who miss some of the band’s more acoustic-sounding songs, the album does try to cater to them as well. “Oceans” and “Always in My Head” give the nostalgic Coldplay lovers bits and pieces of the good ol’ days, when the band’s music was driven solely by the instruments and vocals the members had at their disposal, which gave their previous albums more simplicity. Quite frankly, it’s a nice change of pace in an album that almost overwhelms listeners with electronic music.

Speaking of which, the real shame of the album is its awkward pacing. At times the album switches abruptly from soft, relaxing acoustic guitar riffs to blaring electronic melodies. The most obvious of these unwelcomed transitions occurs in the shift from “Oceans” to “Sky Full of Stars.”

And given that this is a concept album that’s driven by the single theme of heartbreak, some of the subject matter in the songs does get repetitive. Basically, it’s a 12-track album that talks mostly about Chris Martin’s failed relationship and his longing to get things back to the way they were. To be frank, it gets a little overbearing at times listening to the same moody tracks over and over again.

For all its intents and purposes, Coldplay’s “Ghost Stories” does what it sets out to do: It tells a familiar story using unfamiliar tunes. While it may not always work, it sure is worth a listen.

Rating; 3.5 stars

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