Review Summary: A softer paradise.
I might be giving Chris Martin and company a little too much credit, but lately I find myself imagining them like wise sages, shaking their heads at the pop music sector (and, really, us) every time they release an album. "No, children, you're too comfortable. You have to take a few risks sometimes." Viva La Vida
drops. "Children, you're taking life too seriously. You must learn to celebrate your victories!" Mylo Xyloto
burst forth. "Everything in moderation. Restraint is a virtue." Ta-da, Ghost Stories
Of course, like any lessons from your elders, there are confusing errors mixed with the nuggets of wisdom; Coldplay's latest is far from perfect. But it's an enjoyable experience. It's got all the reverb and synthesized fixings of Mylo Xyloto
, but they're directed towards the goal of crafting an intimate, hushed atmosphere instead of explosions of color. Yes, it's sleepy and even a little boring at times. But more often than not, I'm swallowed by the intimacy that Coldplay so obviously strove for here, even as I know it's deliberately calculated. Quite simply, Coldplay is really good at writing pop songs, whatever shape they take on.
Take the silky-smooth "Magic" for example. Martin's tale of post-breakup obsession is sparse, but the instrumentation is well-crafted, and the slow, even build keeps things lively. The standout "Midnight" is initially minimalistic (by Coldplay standards) and eschews pop song structures in favor of another glorious synth-laden build with a beautiful anti-climax. Even the more typical songs like the easily accessible soft-rock-flavored "Another's Arms" shine; the female background vocals are a beautiful touch and a far cry from the disaster of "Princess of China." None of these songs really break new ground, but they're executed almost flawlessly.
There are missteps, to be sure. "Always in My Head" sounds like a pedestrian Xyloto
b-side, and "Oceans" meanders for far too long without creating any sort of engaging atmosphere. But to its credit, it builds up into the album's surprise triumph. Yes, the Avicii collaboration sounded like a huge mistake when it was first released. But in the context of the full album, "A Sky Full of Stars" makes perfect sense, an EDM-laced celebration that breaks from the emotional morass of "Oceans" and introduces a glimmer of hope into the album's mostly somber tale. It's a breath of fresh air.
No, Ghost Stories
won't sway the naysayers. What some see as intimacy, others will call laziness; what some call accessibility, others will call cash-ins. It's very much a Coldplay album, and in 2014, that means it's lyrically on the simple side. It's less musically demanding than any of their previous albums. But these truths can't hide the fact that Coldplay is undeniably good at what they do. Coldplay knows how to adapt and react to the trends of pop music, and this breaks away from the almost cartoonish excess that genre has embraced while still following a simple principle: music doesn't have to reinvent the wheel in order for it to be enjoyed. Ghost Stories
is a tale worth hearing.