Review Summary: While Ghost Stories is not Coldplay's absolutely best effort, its melancholy and mature sound propels it to be their best since their first two major releases.
When I saw the music video for "Midnight," the first song released from Coldplay's new album Ghost Stories, I was more than a little perplexed. This song was like nothing I had ever heard before in its eerie vocals and sweeping synths, but I just did not like it. Then the first official single, "Magic," was announced along with the album. Seeing the track listing and the running time made me even more curious. Well, Ghost Stories has been released, and I could not be more convinced that you'll love it.
The beginning of the album is surprisingly down-tempo and melancholy. With previous openers such as "Hurts Like Heaven" from Mylo Xyloto and "Life in Technicolor" from Viva La Vida, I expected something much happier than "Always In My Head." That is when I started listening to the lyrics to see why this might be, and I found out exactly why: this is a breakup album. As some of you may know, Chris Martin, Coldplay's frontman, recently finished the divorce process with actress Gwyneth Paltrow, his wife of over ten years. This has greatly affected his songwriting, but in a good way: Coldplay has begun to explore the sadder side of life. No more revolutions, no more reassurance, no more earnest longing. What they have brought to the table instead is depression and obsession, and it really works well. These are some of the best lyrics Martin has ever written, always melancholy and thoughtful even in the happier moments. The resigned nature of "Midnight" and "Oceans" shows a man who has chalked up a loss and saddened by it, while "Another's Arms" shows the despair of knowing that the person who once loved you will be someone else's soon. By the end of the album, it is quite easy to sympathize with the central character to the album's story, which is undoubtedly Martin himself.
Musically, this melancholy nature allows Coldplay to return to some of their original sound from their debut Parachutes. It retains that same simplicity even in its complex backing vocals and soaring synths. I hear hints of OneRepublic and Avicii (who, coincidentally, produced the eighth track "A Sky Full of Stars"), as well as a former incarnation of Coldplay. Martin's vocals are more mature and moody than ever while still showing the incredible emotion needed to accurately convey the lyrics. The actual music is slightly similar to Mylo Xyloto in that it can never seem to decide if it wants to be full blown electronic pop or more mellow acoustic fare. It handles this dual-natured personality far better, however, as Ghost Stories manages to meld the two into one unlike MX's constant switching. That gives it a resigned and sometimes cold feeling, very befitting of the lyrics. The story reaches its only high point in "A Sky Full of Stars," yet still retains much of its intense fury and emotion. This odd musical blend succeeds wildly, giving the best Coldplay musical experience yet.
It is worth mentioning that there is a deluxe version of Ghost Stories available exclusively at Target as well as the nine-track standard album. It adds three tracks to the end of the album. Unlike some deluxe albums that seem overblown and bloated, these tracks add an epilogue of sorts to the end of the album. "All Your Friends" discusses what an ex's friends think of the breakup, while "Ghost Story" expands on the acceptance of the breakup previously exposed in "A Sky Full of Stars" and "O." The final track, "O (Reprise)," feels a bit out of place, making me think that "O" should have been the closing track instead of its reprise. These tracks generally retain the musical and lyrical themes of the album.
In conclusion, I believe that what Coldplay (and, more accurately, Chris Martin) has done is roll with the punches of life. You can't rule the world forever, and they have finally come to the place of their "Viva La Vida" dethroned king. Their happiness has ended, and their music reflects it. This maturity has only been seen by mainstream groups a few times recently, with U2's No Line on the Horizon being the prime example in my mind. This is one of the best albums of the year to date, as is its deluxe edition. Both are highly recommended for almost any music fan. I cannot wait to see how this fits into Coldplay's career as they continue.