Coldplay’s ‘Ghost Stories’ plays like a somber relationship tale

Annie Zaleski

Two and a half stars

Coldplay Ghost Stories

If Coldplay’s sixth studio album sounds quite a bit more subdued than past releases, there’s a very good reason for that: Frontman Chris Martin’s disintegrating relationship with wife Gwyneth Paltrow—which culminated in her infamous “conscious uncoupling” split announcement in March—inspired the songwriting.

Thankfully, Martin didn’t approach Ghost Stories like a rote breakup record; instead, the album admires and honors the beauty of their once-stable love, while acknowledging the cracks and uncertainty that led to the split. Still, this internal conflict isn’t particularly trenchant, save for the desperate “True Love,” which implores, “Tell me you love me/And if you don’t then lie.” Even worse, the record’s wordplay is wobbly; hoary clichés (e.g., “Leave a light, a light on,” “I wanna die in your arms”) and awkward lyrics (“I see your colors/And I’m dying of thirst”) dominate.

Musically, Ghost Stories is just as downtrodden. Although incorporating the same kind of electronic shimmers, watery piano and luxurious ambient space as 2008’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, it largely lacks that album’s spark. Sure, there are lovely moments—the delicate, Imogen Heap-esque digital vocal manipulation on “Midnight,” the genteel EDM surge “A Sky Full of Stars” and even the low-lit synth-pop brood “Magic”—but they’re a far cry from Coldplay’s sharp, inspired pop compositions.

The band certainly can’t be faulted for following its muse and keeping things modern, but it’s disheartening how much Ghost Stories feels like it’s treading water rather than making forward progress.

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